March 17, 2007


How Close Is Too Close to Shane MacGowan and the Pogues? (NICHOLAS KULISH, 3/17/07, NY Times)

For me, the Pogues' manic mix of mournful dirges and hard-edged thrashers seemed to map the chaos of my suburban teenage mind.

The fact that there was substance in there, a long Irish musical tradition coupled with references to literature and legend, was what allowed my relationship with the Pogues to blossom from passing fancy into obsession. To steep yourself in the Pogues requires you to read James Joyce and Brendan Behan, to listen to both the Clash and the Dubliners, and to take up some, but, I hope, not all, of the legendary bad habits of our latter-day Baudelaire, Shane.

The ultimate experience, then, would be a face-to-face meeting, a wide-ranging, soul-searching discussion of music and the written word. That was not quite how it unfolded for me when it finally happened, during the summer I turned 20.

Hanging out after a show in Washington in 1995, I found Shane MacGowan alone, confused and locked out of both the club and his tour bus. Pale and unsteady, his words unintelligible, he clawed feebly at the door of the bus. There would be no discussion of "Ulysses." I pounded on the bus door until the driver woke and let him in. Though this audience lasted several minutes, the only words of my hero's that I could make out were "Cheers" and "Thanks."

Until this week, I hadn't seen him play live again.

A healthier MacGowan makes for a stronger Pogues (Joan Anderman, March 10, 2007, Boston Globe)

The enduring poetry of the Pogues' music was front and center, as the punk-ish din of youthful rebellion has become the sound of survival. The sloshing bottle of wine MacGowan gripped seemed more prop than pacifier as the 49-year-old Irishman wended tenderly through "The Broad Majestic Shannon," spewed "Dirty Old Town" with debauched soul and spot-on pitch, and conjured a strong, steady croon for "A Rainy Night in Soho." He left the stage from time to time, ceding the spotlight to whistle player Spider Stacy , guitarist Philip Chevron, and multi-instrumentalist Terry Woods, who each took a turn at the microphone. The band's elegant, careening clatter shone in the absence of MacGowan's magnetic pull.

But the singer always returned, fresh cigarette and new container of booze in hand, and for the first time in a long time it didn't seem like a miracle. The show grew tighter and more spirited, not messier and more tragic, as the nearly two-hour set wore on -- culminating in a stunning run of "Star of the County Down," "Poor Paddy," the Dubliners' "The Old Triangle," and salty, waltzing "Fiesta." MacGowan didn't miss a beat, even as the tempos raced and he and Stacy bashed themselves on the head with sheet metal. After all these years it's going to take more than a little self-inflicted percussion to take the Pogues down.

A Ramble Through the Mind of the Pogues' Poet (ANDY WEBSTER, 3/13/07, NY Times)
The Pogues are in the United States for their annual St. Patrick's tour, hitting cities where their fan base and Irish enclaves are strong: Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Next the group goes to the Roseland Ballroom in New York, with gigs on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, St. Patrick's Day. (The band plays in Philadelphia on Friday too.)

A reporter had waited close to an hour in the bar at the Ritz-Carlton here before Mr. MacGowan -- resplendent in an untucked black-and-white-printed tropical shirt, primitive neck jewelry and a gaudy red and black cowboy hat -- shuffled in with Joey Cashman, his longtime assistant. Mr. MacGowan, 49, asked the waiter for Irish breakfast tea, and drank with a trembling hand.

It might be said that Mr. MacGowan speaks in a Joycean stream of consciousness, but a conversation with him is closer to a pinwheeling ramble with a very well-seasoned regular at the corner pub. He speaks in a flurry of digressions, uttered in a semi-slurred Irish-London accent that is tough to decipher at times. When, during one tangent, the term "British Isles" arose, Mr. Cashman was quick to correct it.

"Don't use the phrase British Isles," he said. "It's England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland." He added, "If you say it any other way, he'd probably throw his glass at you."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 17, 2007 12:00 AM

I love their And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda from the best named album ever, "Rum, Sodomy & the Lash".

Posted by: pchuck at March 10, 2007 2:05 PM