The Pogues / The King Blues
Brixton Academy, London on Saturday 19 December 2009
With Christmas looming, there’s an air of celebration about the Brixton Academy and the drinks are flowing. It can only mean one thing: The Pogues are in town for the last night of their annual Christmas tour.
Support comes from The King Blues, whose boisterous sound and energy keeps the crowd in lively spirits in the early part of the evening. Whilst the set is undoubtedly a triumph, with large sections of the audience dancing and singing along throughout their 30-minute set, their crowd-pleasing bravado appears to mask the mediocrity of a lot of their songs. However, to their credit, they manage to further animate the crowd in anticipation for the main event.
As The Pogues step on to the stage, the goodwill directed towards them is almost deafening, and it’s immediately clear that the crowd are not just here for that Christmas song; and rightly so. With the band ready and waiting, Shane MacGowan waddles on to the stage, defying the smoking ban and with two drinks in hand. Well, what else did we expect? Launching straight into Streams of Whiskey, the crowd surge forward in delight.
The Pogues have earned a reputation as a mesmerising live force, and their form tonight proves exactly why. As a consequence of the mythology surrounding Shane MacGowan and his seemingly inexhaustible liver, it is often easy to overlook the contribution of the rest of the band. Whilst this is often the case when it comes to bands with charismatic frontmen, the almost effortless quality of the musicianship on show is obvious throughout the gig. It comes as no surprise that two of the most well received songs of the evening are the glorious instrumental Repeal of the Licensing Laws and Tuesday Morning, sung by the tin whistle player Spider Stacy.
However, whilst the band’s ability shines through, they find themselves having to battle against sound problems throughout the duration of the evening. Although the beautiful Kitty and Dirty Old Town soared are both rapturously received, some of the more vibrant songs such as Bottle of Smoke sadly fail to connect with the audience as they should. Fortunately, the charisma and evident passion of the band help to maintain the crowd’s attention throughout.
Following a main set which seemed to fly by, the band return for an encore including the majestic Rainy Night In Soho, with MacGowan’s weathered vocals really highlighting the desperate beauty of the lyrics. The band then exit the stage, leaving the crowd thirsty for more.
Of course, they return once more to play the Christmas classic Fairytale of New York, with Ella Finer filling in admirably in place of the sorely missed Kirsty MacColl. With the crowd in such high spirits, cheers erupt as MacGowan and Finer dance amidst the falling fake snow, in a truly heart-warming moment.
After nearly 2 hours, the band finish with the raucous set-closer Fiesta, driving the crowd wild and proving beyond doubt that The Pogues are for life, not just for Christmas.
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