By Sean Sweeney
(Set list and video below.)
It took a long time for me to see a Pogues concert. Thirty-some-odd years, actually. But it was an experience that was well worth the wait. And I use the word “experience” because, frankly, I have no more appropriate way to describe this show.
A forever-feeling 60 minutes after opening band Titus Androgynous completed their set, the crowd of mostly 20- to 30-something beer swilling fans was primed to party with the legendary Irish folk/punk Pogues and frontman Shane MacGowan.
After apologies for being late and a few slurred words from the always-interesting (and always intoxicated) Shane MacGowan, the group gently began the set-opener with “Streams of Whiskey;” proving that, while warranted, concerns over MacGowen’s ability to perform could be put aside. His his booze-laced, groggy, smoke-aged voice was surprisingly up to task, in spite of his hard-earned, hard drinking reputation (and toothless grill). The Pogues’ original eight — MacGowan (lead singer and songwriter), Spider Stacy (tin whistle, vocals), Jem Finer (banjo), James Fearnley (accordion), Darryl Hunt (bass), Andrew Ranken (drums), Phillip Chevron (guitar) and Terry Woods (mandolin) — then rolled into the classic “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” and the brash rockers were on their way to playing all the high notes of their catalog; including “A Pair Of Brown Eyes,” the MacGowan-less “Tuesday Morning” (Spider Stacy took the lead vocal duties), “Sunny Side Of The Street” and a perfectly-paced “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” The crowd responded too, as a familiar mosh pit stirred up in the front of the stage from the jump.
(review continues below)
There were a few low points. On “Thousands are Sailing,” Chevron took the vocals and was out of key more than once — possibly because it seemed the band started the song a key too high. There were also sound issues all night,including ear-piercing feedback from the main vocal mic throughout the set. And, unsurprisingly, McGowan forgot some words and his timing was a bit off on “Matilda.” But given his state and his history, it’s surprising that more songs didn’t suffer the same fate.
All that being said, it’s easy to overlook a few shortcomings. Everyone, like me, was there for the experience of The Pogues. That’s the respect and love they have earned as music legends and received on this night. They’ve been driving hard for almost 30 years, almost fully intact. Signs of wear become revered, not reviled. So, the mosh pit churned and the sing-a-longs rollicked while MacGowan puffed on a few cigarettes between songs, as if to give a metaphorical middle-finger to the Chicago indoor smoking ban and purveyors of a healthy lifestyle everywhere. In the end, the band that once opened for The Clash in 1984 effortlessly channeled their true punk roots and did whatever the hell they wanted to. And we drank up all of it.
At various times during the show, the band-mates would give dedications (or as the kids call them today ‘shout-outs’) to loved ones and friends. That might sound a bit out of place for a band with such a long history as The Pogues (haven’t they thanked these people before?) but recent online rumors have suggested that this show would be the last for The Pogues in Chicago — after all, this U.S. tour is titled “A Parting Glass With The Pogues.” Even so, during some of their famous fast-paced songs like “Bottle Of Smoke” and “Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn,” Fearnley pranced and jumped across the stage, lifting and throwing his accordion around and bending on his knees like he was in his 20’s again. The crowd loved it. And it hardly seemed the behavior of someone at the end of the line. Let’s hope not. Because every fan of a rock and roll life should see The Pogues.
Setlist: The Pogues – “A Parting Glass” tour, Congress Theater, Chicago, March 3rd, 2011 (more video below)
Streams Of Whiskey
If I Should Fall From Grace With God
The Broad Majestic Shannon
A Pair Of Brown Eyes
Tuesday Morning (Shane left the stage for this one)
Sunny Side Of The Street
Repeal of the Licensing Laws
And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
Body Of An American
Thousands are Sailing (Phil on lead)
Dirty Old Town
Bottle of Smoke
Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn
Rainy Night In Soho
Poor Paddy On The Railway
Sean Sweeney is a life-long Chicagoan, musician and live concert fanatic who has attended more than 300 concerts. You can find him on Twitter @MusicalSean. Sean plays drums in Chicago’s B-Side Social (www.bsidesocial.com)