Around 15 years ago, U2 played a gig at the old Boston Garden on St. Patrick’s Day. The gig is still fairly legendary in terms of Boston folklore and the number of people who actually “claim” that they were there would have doubly exceeded the capacity of the Garden. While the U2 show was a good one… it did not come close to the band's mid-80s gigs (especially a September 1987 show at the same venue when Bono and the boys probably were the best band on the planet) and does not live up to the hype the legacy of the show has left behind.
So, it was much more of a treat to the “Boston Irish” that The Pogues, who have once again reunited with original and legendary front man Shane McGowan, picked only Boston, Philly, Chicago, and New York to play a few shows at this year and making the cities the only US gigs they are doing in 2007. The thoughts of seeing the original Pogues at all, let alone playing so close to St. Patty’s Day, was just a dream for their followers for many years. Now that it has come true, it surely has made many a music loving Boston-Irish post-Punk want to break out their now most likely tight fitting old Pogues concert shirts and down several pints of Guinness.
This show, on March 11, 2007 at the Orpheum Theater, was the fourth and final night of the bands Boston run, as the group played a trio of well received shows at the Avalon in Boston just prior to the Orpheum show. It was of some concern to some Pogues fans that the band might be out of steam at the tail end of a four-nighter, but the band proved that, while they are no longer the young rebels the once were, they can still roar through a set that could make even the most cynical of observers happy. But the show also left you feeling a bit sad that they splintered in the first place, leaving a question mark for what the band could have done during all the years of inactivity.
Not just content to walk through a greatest hits set, the band charged through some great re-tellings of “Rainy Night In Soho” and versions of “Sally MacLennane” and “Fiesta” that were so emotionally stirring I hoped that younger disciples (and Boston residents) The Dropkick Murphys were in attendance to take close notes.
There's been a lot of talk about the alleged problems that have haunted Shane McGowan and his relationship with the Pogues. Well, some of this was evident this night, but McGowan did his best to once again play the Celtic troubadour of the band and was in great voice as he boastfully re-told tales of roaming Irish lads, dirty old towns, and burials at sea. McGowan preached like the elder Post-Punk statesman he is.
Unfortunately, we also got too see a first hand glimpse of the some of the problems that have hounded the guy and some of the reasons that the other Pogues could not work with him for so long. McGowan was helped to center stage by a roadie initially. He limped about and was generally unsteady at times (physically). He blatantly ignored the venues strict “No Smoking” policy and swigged on a bottle of wine during the night. While he sounded fantastic, his dis-shelved appearance was of concern for the audience and, no doubt, the band.
The most unsettling moments came during “White City,” when McGowan dropped his
microphone and it was apparent that he was unable to simply retrieve it (the ever reliable roadie acted quickly and got the mike quickly back in McGowan’s reach). While it was obvious that McGowan was fatigued, as he left the stage several times to rest – one time as he was making his exit, McGowan fell flat on the stage. This was pretty disturbing for the audience – but the band looked fairly shook as well – and all wondered if McGowan was done for for the evening.
As the band soldiered on and played a couple of tunes sans McGowan, he came back
quicker than expected and continued, seemingly unfazed, showing all that he truly is more tenacious than some may have thought.
While McGowan’s appearance was the not the best, his chops are still in full gear, and it was also nice to see that the other Pogues are still in fighting shape. Guitarist Philip Chevron did some amazing guitar work and at times even got his shine with some well played traditional licks on mandolin. He also provided some great harmonies to add
support the prodigal McGowan, as did tin whistle maestro, Spider Stacy. Andrew
Ranken was the ever steady powerhouse on the drums and the rhythmic beats he re-
created with bassist Darryl Hunt were pretty flawless.
Save for some uncertain moments with McGowan, this show was everything and more
that the long ardent devotes of the Pogues have been waiting for.
And the “talkers” in Boston can brag all they want about seeing U2 on St. Patrick’s Day – the faithful followers of The Pogues can truthfully say who the best and more traditional Irish rock band is.