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Concert Review: The Pogues – Congress Theater, Chicago, IL, March 3, 2011

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I felt like I was treading water, working so hard with my legs to keep my head above the crowd. I was the guy at the Pogues show wanting to watch this band’s brand of punked-up traditional Irish music, wanting to watch them play away with their instruments, but of course, a Pogues show is also about the mosh pit which was right behind me.

While I treaded water, craning my neck to see and stretching my body to absorb the crowd’s movements, I was treated to a remarkable experience on this “A Parting Glass” farewell tour for the band that paved the way for Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys. The band was in fine form, playing up the jigs, banging out many crowd favorites. Shane MacGowan shuffled onto stage to sing looking like everyone’s favorite crazy, drunk uncle — an adorable hero, unless I suppose you had to deal with him every day. (At one point, it looked like there was about to be spat between MacGowan and Spider Stacy, but everything calmed back down and MacGowan went on to sing).

As I treaded water, my legs were buoyed by some of my favorite songs: “If I Should Fall From the Grace of God” and “Thousands are Sailing.” Hearing those songs live, railing against this world with a dance and a kick, lifted my spirits. It’s like watching the Chieftans — as the band delves into traditional instrumentation like tin whistle, mandolin, banjo, and accordion — but meanwhile, all behind me chaos was erupting in the mosh pit, dancing with abandon while railing against whatever ails them.

After two-thirds of the show, as another favorite “Bottle of Smoke” was played, I stopped treading water, went swimming (not surfing) through the crowd, to move back away from the stage where the waters were calmer. From there, I watched the encores, soaked in the scene, and relished the opportunity to see such a critically important band send us off into the night and the crowded streets of Chicago, all with a tin whistle tune on our lips and spilled beer and sweat on our shirts.

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