Renewed Pogues delight Boston faithful

A review of the Pogues at the Orpheum Theatre on March 20, 2008

, Editor-in-Chief

Over the years, the story of Celtic-punk pioneers the Pogues has been intertwined with the struggles of troubled frontman Shane MacGowan. While booze may have fueled his most brilliant songwriting, it also plagued his live performances. Since he reunited with the band a few years ago, MacGowan seems to have cleaned up his act as much as he could. Still, when he staggered onto the Orpheum stage on Thursday night, it was no surprise. But what lifted the performance to a truly memorable and entertaining night were his bandmates, who delivered a tight and exhilarating set.

The Pogues kicked off their near two hour show with "Streams of Whiskey" as the Boston faithful gave the band a heroes welcome. Crowd favorite "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" followed as MacGowan, clad in a black suit and top hat, growled his first scream of the night. But for the majority of the band’s opening hour MacGowan was a mess, stumbling about the stage and slurring inaudible introductions to the band’s songs. Actually, the only thing that came out clearly was his response to an annoying fan, calling the fan a "wanker".

Aside from MacGowan’s sadly expected condition, the remaining seven band members were locked in tighter than ever, delivering a spot on performance. When the frontman staggered off stage for a handful of breaks, it allowed the band to thrive even more under the spotlight. Spider Stacy, who led the band when MacGowan was ousted from 1991 to 1996, delivered one of the best vocal turns of the night with "Tuesday Morning", and again later on "Love You ‘Till the End". He dedicated the song to hometown legends the Dropkick Murphys, with whom he collaborated on the band’s last album for the song "(F)lanigans Ball".& In the most inspiring performance of the night, guitarist Phil Chevron, who recently battled throat cancer, delivered the band’s classic hit "Thousands are Sailing". Even drummer Andrew Ranken kicked off the band’s second encore at center stage with the microphone in hand for a beautiful rendition of "Star of County Down".

It went beyond the vocals though. The Pogues were delivering each note with passion and precision. Stacy was delightful on tin whistle, Terry Woods was incredible on mandolin, multi-instrumnetalist Jeremy "Jem" Finer was solid, while bassist Darryl Hunt and Ranken provided a strong rythmic foundation. And accordian player James Fearnley brought an awesome energy that saw him running and sliding across the stage end to end. Together they shined through tunes like "Greenland Whale Fisheries" and "Turkish Song of the Damned".

That’s not to say that MacGowan didn’t have his fair share of memorable moments on the night. His distinct vocals were sharp and they only got stronger as the night progressed, especially during crowd favorites "The Body of an American" (a hit amongst viewers of HBO’s The Wire) and old time classic, "Dirty Old Town".

"The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn" closed out the band’s main set before they returned for two three-song encores. The first flowed from "Sally MacLennane" to vociferous sing-a-longs of "Rainy Night in Soho" and "Irish Rover". Ending the night was the Spanish-fused hit "Fiesta", which inspired a festive atmosphere. Former Dropkick Murphy guitarist Marc Orell, whose band Gimme Danger opened the show, joined the band on stage to smash cooking pans across his head with Stacy and later MacGowan, a comical sight for sure.

The band has claimed in the past that they would like to record new material and there might be no better time to do it than now. As the band that gave birth to Flogging Molly (who just debuted at #4 with their new release Float) and Boston’s own Dropkick Murphys (who debuted at #20 with their 2007 release The Meanest Of Times), the audience for good Celtic punk is there. The band proved on Thursday that they still have the sonic power and chemistry to make great things happen. But, as is always the case, what about Shane?

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