A drunken middle-aged man stumbles on stage and slurs lyrics as 1,000 or so more drunken middle-aged men watch on, raise their plastic cups of overpriced beer and half-coherently sing along. Sound like a fun Friday night during St. Patrick’s Day weekend? Hardly.
I had bought my ticket in great anticipation – I’ve listened to “Streams of Whiskey,” “If I Should Fall From the Grace of God” and “Fairytale of New York” tons of times, making them my go-to choices at pub jukeboxes.
And I’ve seen video of Shane MacGowan in his younger days – soulfully belting out The Pogues’ driving lyrics with his signature scratchy voice. He was invigorating, inspiring, rebellious – everything a young Irish American could really get into.
Though the days of the rousing, youthful Pogues performances are gone, the band can still put on a decent show. They opened the night with the first two of my favorites, and the crowd went nuts, dancing and singing along.
But then they played a stream of songs that only the “real” fans would recognize. Anybody who knew the words seemed to be having fun. I, however, just kind of spaced out in boredom.
I attribute my reaction to two things: one, I had never heard the songs before, but more importantly, on top of this, MacGowan’s delivery was less than stellar.
It wasn’t the fact that I couldn’t understand the lyrics, or the fact that he was so drunk he dropped his mic several times. It was more that he seemed distracted and disconnected from the rest of the energetic band members.
It also probably didn’t help my mood that in the middle of the concert, a drunken 40-something man fell on top of me, spilling his beer all over my shirt. But I suppose these are the events that define a Pogues concert, right?
James Fearnley, the accordion player, was fantastic. Though he’s in his mid-50s, the musician was bouncing around the stage, obviously putting his heart and soul into the performance.
Phil Chevron, who sang lead vocals on “Thousands are Sailing,” gave a solid performance. The throat cancer survivor’s mere presence and ability to deliver a passionate performance was an inspiration for the crowd.
But Shane was a different story. Yes, he’s a legend, and yes, he’s endearing in many ways, but if I pay $65 to see The Pogues, I don’t want their iconic lead singer to leave the stage for a refill every other song. Of Shane’s relationship with the group, Fearnley said: "We’re like an old couple. There is this resilience now that will never go away in our relationship.”
But there seemed to be much more of a disconnect between Shane and the other members than Fearnely admits. Every time MacGowan stumbled off stage, the other members gracefully picked up where they left off, trying their best to appease the crowd with some great riffs of their own.
I couldn’t help but wonder – are The Pogues a team, or are the band members simply a back-up for MacGowan?