Joe Strummer once delivered the definitive line on why the Pogues are special. When speaking about his days touring America with the band and hearing their classic song If I Should Fall From Grace With God he said: “I just have to restrain myself from rushing on stage. It’s not the playing of it I want to join in on; it’s the singing of it.” This is why the band is so special. They craft songs that you yearn to sing, to shout, and to SCREAM! Although there are other reasons why this band is fantastic, the fact that they have written such excellent songs is reason enough.
This was the second night of their sold-out set at 9:30 club. As I strolled into the club I could hear Sunny Afternoon by the Kinks pouring out of the speakers. This was followed by Dexy’s Geno, Jam’s Going Underground, Specials Too Much Too Young, Rolling Stones Sister Morphine, Blondie’s Atomic, and more. With such a stellar music selection I could not have been in a better mood. I quickly became a popular figure with the crowd simply because I was wearing a Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds t-shirt. Since Pogues singer Shane MacGowan and Cave have worked together, as well as covered each other’s music, I suppose it’s expected that die-hard Pogues fans would embrace Cave.
Thankfully the opening band, Titus Andronicus, proved to be an engaging presence. From their opening notes they played with gusto, determined to own every second of their set. The individual songs didn’t hit me as much as their animated performance. It seemed like some of the crowd were die-hard fans; plenty were dancing, singing along perfectly, and cheering the band on. Best of all: my mind rarely wandered during their set. If only every opening act played with such enthusiasm.
As a tradition, before the Pogues march onto the stage the lights fade away and Straight to Hell by the Clash is played in its entirety. Once again, I couldn’t be in a better mood. That song always leaves me feeling so good. The crowd lightly swayed to it, singing with Strummer (I wonder if there were any kids asking “Who the hell is this sampling M.I.A.?”), and as the song began to close the Pogues emerged. I suppose many would deem this to be the classic line-up of the Pogues; these are the 8 men from If I Should Fall…, arguably their most beloved album. James Fearnley’s pants were completely torn at the knees, exposing his battered knee-pads. Spider Stacy sauntered in wearing a captain’s hat. Philip Chevron wore a fine suit, only the suit turned into a kilt (or was it an apron? I have no idea, but it looked great). Shane looked the strangest; he had a very long black leather coat, one black leather glove, black sunglasses, and a green plastic Irish shamrock necklace. When he spoke to the crowd we all had the same response: “What? What?” No one knew what Shane or Spider was saying all night long.
The moment they began playing the crowd was in heaven. With the 1-2 punch of Streams of Whiskey and If I Should Fall… the dance-floor looked like a raging sea of human bodies. The only way to see the Pogues is fight through this tide. Standing back, far away from the chaos, is not the same. When you’re in the thick of it you see beaming smiles, strangers throwing their arms around each other, and happiness erupting into maniacal screams of delight. When you are seeing the Pogues you are going to a mad bash, one you will leave covered in sweat, beer, stink, spit, and maybe some blood.
Spider Stacey took the mic to sing the final great Pogues song, Tuesday Morning. He stumbled a bit at the start, but quickly recovered. This song has a melody so fine that he could be singing names in a phone-book and it would still be just as moving. Overall the band stuck to the music from their beginning up to If I Should Fall… As a result we got to hear many classic cuts: Dirty Old Town, Sally MacLennane, Thousands Are Sailing, A Pair of Brown Eyes, Rainy Night in Soho, e.t.c. The Pogues can still play with energy and bite; Fearnley would soar into the air and crash down upon his knees and Chevron would spin around the room. They can still hit the notes and bring the spirit, but Shane is the one who falters the most. Looking at him made me think of the American Psycho line: “I simply am not there.” I kept wondering how much of him was present with us. He can still give a good shriek, but that’s the most energetic he gets. I did love seeing him join in with Spider as they beat their heads into tin trays.
My main criticism of the show is this: their albums Peace & Love and Hell’s Ditch are unfairly ignored. The last time I saw them we were given one song from each (Cotton Fields and Sayonara) and this time was the same, only the songs were different (Boat Train and Sunny Side of the Street). Why must two very good albums be dismissed? Do the Pogues dislike them? I know there are Pogues fans that aren’t as keen on them. Perhaps it’s because they explore more musical flavours than just the Irish sound, or maybe it is because they are the warmest and most radiant albums of their career (even though many of the lyrics remain venomous and tragic). Yet when they played The Sunny Side of the Street the people behind me started to slam-dance (yes, it’s a strange choice for slam-dancing). All I know is Young Ned of the Hill, The Ghost of a Smile, Lorelai, Rainbow Man, Misty Morning Albert Bridge, and Rain Street deserve to be played. Even the Jesus & Mary Chain covered The Ghost of a Smile; it wasn’t a very good cover, but at least they knew how great the original was.
Essentially, this was the same set of music they played when I last saw them here on St. Patrick’s Day two years ago. Aside from my aforementioned annoyance, I still had a wonderful time because their songs never fail to move me.
Which songs incited the rambunctious crowd the most? The Sickbed of Cuchulainn, Poor Paddy on the Railway, The Body of An American, Bottle of Smoke, and Fiesta. Naturally they closed the night with Fiesta since it’s an absolutely mad party song. Afterwards everyone looked simultaneously exhausted and wired. The Pogues can’t help but leave us fans in a state of ecstasy. Those of you have yet to check out their music need to do so immediately. Those of you who love it need to see them live and enjoy the party.