Tag Archives: Shane MacGowan

Pogues Show Recap

Have I said how much I love the 930 Club?  According to my friend, artists love playing there as well.  I have no basis other than my friends’s word, but I’d say that The Pogues love playing there as well considering they played two shows there this week.

There have been numerous times that I have been subjected to terrible opening bands, but I still like to show up and check whoever the supporting act is.  To me, it’s part of the show.  And Tuesday’s opener Titus Andronicus was one of the better openers I’ve seen in a while.  The lead singer could have been mistaken for Devendra Benhart, but he definitely had a stage  presence that took more from Iggy Pop – though nowhere near as extreme.  While it definitely hard to make out the lyrics, they definitely nailed it when they stuck to jamming out.  Perhaps I’ll actually check out some of their stuff sometime soon.

As for the Pogues, once again they failed to disappoint.  Shane MacGowan may have started the first few songs off-time with the rest of the band – “Stream of Whiskey” and “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” were a little rocky, and he completely messed up the lyrics to “The Broad Majestic Shannon” – the rest of the band seemed as tight as ever.  The songs aren’t quite played with the reckless abandon of their youth, but the band never seems fully energized especially on “the faster songs like The Sunny Side of the Street” and “Bottle of Smoke” .  Going through the motions is something The Pogues never do.  The biggest surprise of the night of the night was a full band treatment of “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda“.  MacGowan seemed particularly into the performance of this anti-war anthem.

While The Pogues stick to a fairly standard set-list, there’s still an air of unpredictability to the show.  It’s kind of hard to tell which way it will go.  Will the band grow tired of MacGowan’s antics?  How many songs will he be off stage for?  MacGowan often announces a what the next song is, only to be told by Spider Stacey, that is it something different.  His onstage banter is kind of warbled, but once he starts singing in his warbled voice, it’s still with the same conviction and belief that he had in his younger (and more focused days).  And that is what truly matters, and why people keep coming back to their shows despite no new music in nearly two decades.

 

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Pogues Show Tonight & New REM Album

 

The Pogues – Fiesta

Tonight, I’m going to see the Pogues in DC, for what I believe is the 6th or 7th I’ve seen them.  It will definitely be an awesome time, as I ranked them #5 on my Top 20 Concerts of All time. I may try and update before the show, as I downloaded a WordPress App for my phone the other day.  I haven’t used it yet, so we’ll see how it goes.

Also of interest, REM’s latest album Collapse Into Now comes out today.  I’ll probably write it about later on during the week.

R.E.M. – Uberlin

 

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Top 20 Concerts – The Final 5

5. The Pogues (March 2006, Washington DC – 930 Club)

Is there a better way to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day then going to the see the originators of Irish-folk punk?  Last year was an exception, but since 2006 I’ve been going to see the Pogues every March when they tour the East Coast.  Some years I even went twice.  Shane MacGowan’s vovals might be more warbled than they are on record, but the musicianship of the band more than makes up for it.  The Pogues can easily tear through songs such as “Streams of Whiskey”, “The Sunnyside of the Street”, and “Bottle of Smoke” with reckless abandon that can cause even the squarest of concert-goers to let loose.

Even the slower songs as such as “The Old Main Drag” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes” truly come alive in concert.  “Thousands Are Sailing” a lament about the troubles of Irish immigration becomes a triumph, when the song’s writer Phil Chevron takes over on lead vocals (MacGowan uses this a break to take a piss – I’m not joking).  The fan-favorite “Body of An American” can become something of a bit of bro-mance – when was the last time you saw so many dudes with their arms around each other’s shoulder singing loudly?

4. U2 (June 2001 Washington DC – Verizon Center)

I personally think that the 2005 Vertigo Tour had better performances (saw them twice that year) but on the 2001 Elevation Tour U2 showed not only were they back after the disaster that was Pop, but proved that concerts can be an uplifting and cathartic experience.  U2 perhaps more than any other group, excel at this.

This was the first U2 show I went to, after years of trying.  I had desperately tried to buy tickets several times, only to find Ticketmaster inform me that the show was sold-out.  Less than a week before the show, I read on a U2 fan-site that leftover tickets were being released.  Nervous that I would be locked out again, I quickly logged on.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I snatched up a pair of tickets for my older brother and I.

By June, even the newer songs off of All That You Can’t Leave Behind seemed like classics – particularly “Beautiful Day”, “Kite” and “In a Little While”.  Even the classic warhorses seemed to gain a new life.  Whatever you may think of him, Bono remains one of rock’s greatest frontmen – restless, until he reaches out to every single person in the arena.  It’s rare that a band seems to be so aware of every single person in a 20,000 person arena.  And The Edge’s ice-y guitar chords never sounded so glorious.

One of U2’s strengths has always been to make their old songs, relevant and contemporary.   The bridge of “I Will Follow” linked the past to the present as Bono recalled playing clubs in DC during the group’s early days.  “Bullet the Blue Sky” included an anti-gun rant, and “One” shed light on the troubles in Africa.

I just wish I had seen the post 9/11 shows when U2 songs seemed to be a soundtrack for a wounded nation.

3. Elvis Costello (May 2007, Washington DC – 930 Club)

I should probably pick the Costello show with Allen Touissant.  But, I only remember half of the show, so I don’t think that should count.  As I stated many times during this list, I’m in in love with small venues.  And seeing Elvis Costello, five feet from my face at the 930 Club is about an intimate as you can.  Being this close to one of your heroes is an experience that has evaded me until this show.

It wasn’t just the closeness that made this show great.  Costello was touring behind a collection of his “rock” songs, and as such the show centered around material from his earlier days when he looked liked and act like a pissed off Buddy Holly.  While Costello has mellowed a bit in his songwriting, the performances retained every bite and sting he left on record.  “Lipstick Vogue” was particularly snarling with its length instrumental bridge.  “There’s No Action” was a little tighter than the version found on This Year’s Model, but still seemed on the verge of veering out of control.

“Shabby Doll” was even darker than its studio counterpart, and the live favorite “Watching the Detectives” was given an extended reading, which suited the song’s reggae feeling.  Costello is often known for his love of The Beatles, and the group’s rendition of “Hey Bulldog” was a highlight.

2. Leonard Cohen (May 2009, Columbia MD – Merriweather Post Pavilion)

For a man that doesn’t tour very often, Leonard Cohen put on one hell of a show.  And like Willie Nelson, Cohen also seemed to be enjoying himself through the over 3 hour set which included all of his best known songs, “Suzanne”, “So Long, Marianne” “Tower of Song” and of course “Hallelujah”.  As for Cohen himself, he seemed a lot more animated than you would expect a 75 year old man to be.  He also seemed extremely humbled to be in the presence of “friends”.

The constant rain didn’t seem to do anything for the atmosphere.  Despite being soaked for most of the night, the show could have gone on for 3 more hours and I wouldn’t have cared.  Unlike Bob Dylan, your chances of seeing Leonard Cohen live are few and far between.

1. Van Morrison (February 2009, New York City – Wamu Theater)

(Note: I couldn’t find a video from the Astral Weeks tour)

A once in a life-time show.  I’m usually not lucky enough to go to “special performances”, but I did manage to get tickets for this sold out show (at a hefty, but extremely worthwhile price).  Like Cohen, Van Morrison doesn’t tour very often but in late 2008 he surprised everybody by not just playing a few shows, but by performing Astral Weeks in its entirety.

For me, Astral Weeks is a life-changing album, and I had no doubt that seeing Morrison perform Astral Weeks live would be a life-changing experience.  Usually, I’m not a fan of concerts where you have to sit down, but this was one concert where sitting back, taking in the music was a perfect suit.  In its original incarnation, Astral Weeks a reflective mood piece – one that commands you to sit down and listen.  And the same went for the show.

The first half of the set contained many standard Van Morrison songs. While he was every professional, Morrison seemed to plow right through the set (“Domino” was particularly short winded).  I wouldn’t suggest that he was actually bored with own material, but it was clear that he really wanted to do the Astral Weeks set.  In contrast to the first set, Astral Weeks was given a slow jazzy treatment that didn’t take on the songs original arrangements, but retained the spirit of the record.  “Slim Slow Slider” was given an expanded ending with Morrison repeatedly chanting, “I start breaking down”.  It’s a song that I never gave enough attention to on the record, but it became one of the highlights for me.

Astral Weeks has always existed in its own plane.  It’s not rock, it’s not folk, and it’s not jazz.  It can be a combination of these things – but it’s also about the passage of time – looking back and seeing the past.  Morrison made many great records since Astral Weeks, but he never made a better one.  And in 2008 and 2009, Morrison finally looked back into the past and finally admitted what everyone already knew – Astral Weeks isn’t just a record, but an experience.

 

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5 Great Pogues Songs

Since Winter is officially here, and the Holiday has come and gone – it’s time to listen to the Pogues.  I rank them among my 10 favorite artists, but I don’t really listen to them outside of this season.  To me, The Pogues are one of the most criminally under-rated artists – and it’s a fucking shame that they get overshadowed by bands like Dropkick Murphys, when they practically invented the genre of Irish/punk.  So here are my top 5 favorite Pogues’ songs.  (I’m sure that some people I know will say I left out tons of great songs, but so be it.)

“The Sunnyside of the Street”

The best use of Spider Stacey’s tin-whistle by far.  Shane MacGowan mumbles his way through the lyrics.  The title would suggest that it is a song about redemption, but MacGowan’s claim that he “will not be reconstructed” near the end, make it clear that he’s enjoying his life as a libertine, and the sunnyside of the street is his steadfast defiance.

“The Body of an American”

For the un-intitiated, this would be the song I would play them.  It’s got all of the best elements of a Pogues song.  It starts off as a ballad, but quickly builds into the trademark mix of traditional Irish music played by a bunch of punks.  It also contains some of Shane MacGowan’s best lyrics (which is saying a lot considering he is one of rock’s best lyricists) about an American whose body is taken back to Ireland for a wake.  The song was given a new life on The Wire, when the song was used for policemen wakes.

“Boys From the County Hell”

The Pogues have a lot of angry songs, but “Boys From the County Hell” is among the angriest.  If “Sunnyside of the Street” finds MacGowan being defiant, in “Boys From the County Hell” he’s just violent.  He and his gang take care of his “bastard” landlord by grabbing “his fucking balls”.  He’s so drunk that he can’t recall whether it actually happened or not, but all he knows is that he doesn’t didn’t have a penny.  Throughout the song you’re left wondering what makes him so pissed until MacGowan reveals that, “me daddy was a blue shirt, my mother  madam, my brother earned his medals at mei lei in Vietnam”.

“Bottle of Smoke ”

Probably the Pogues’ best fast song.  It’s all about betting on a horse named after a bong – what else could a horse named Bottle of Smoke be named after?  It also have James Fearnley’s best use of the accordion – it practically drives the song.  Never has betting on a horse sounded so glorious and fun.  When MacGowan screams in jubilee during the bridges, you wonder if the tale about betting on the horse and winning is actually true.

“Thousands Are Sailing”

The only song on here not written by MacGowan, and perhaps the Pogues’ most heartbreaking song.  A devastating song about Irish immigration, it spans different decades – from the late 1880s until to the present day.  Those who died on the long-trip across the Atlantic Ocean to Ellis Island are not forgotten as “their ghosts still haunt the waves”.  I was recently lectured by a friend of mine for thinking that the hats tipped to Mr. Cohan was Leonard Cohen, instead of George M. Cohan.  But they’re in Times Square, and Leonard Cohen is associated with New York City so it made sense to me.

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Artists and Songs Used in Commercials

Last night I was shocked to see that Subaru was using The Pogues’ “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” in a commercial revolving around a mother driving her kids to pee-wee hockey.  In an age where record sales are declining, it’s somewhat understandable that artists would give away their rights to commercials such as these, but as fan it does take away from the integrity of the specific song.  “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” at least musically has a celebratory tone (as do a lot of Pogues songs) but the title alone would at least give an indication of what the song is about.  “If I should fall from grace with God, where no doctor can relieve me,” Shane MacGowan growls through the first line.  “If I’m buried beneath the sod, but the angels won’t receive me.”  This is the song of a man owning up to his demons, admitting that perhaps he is damned after all, and seeming content with that.   The Pogues’ lyrics have more in common with The Wire’s Jimmy McNulty driving wasted and wrecking his car underneath a Baltimore over-pass then a suburban mother driving her kids to hockey practice.

It’s kind of a moot argument to cry foul and accuse artists of “selling out” when lending their songs to commercials.  I just have a problem with the context in which many of these songs are used.  I recently went to the Notre Dame/Navy game last weekend, and I was surprised that Navy actually came out to the field to Rage Against the Machine’s “Testify” – a song that criticizes mass media, Big Oil, and makes numerous references to George Orwell’s 1984.  Rage’s music is bombastic and can get a crowd moving, but did anyone involved in the sound for Navy think about the meaning behind the song?

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Clash Week, Friday: “The Call-Up”

The Clash followed up the magnificent London Calling with one of rock’s most interesting and frustrating albums –Sandinista! A triple disc, 36 song set Sandinista! found the Clash taking the multi-genre experimentation they explored on London Calling and taking it to its (often illogical extreme).  It’s been called the punk-rock White Album due to the few numbers of great songs piled in between loads of filler.  I’m not quite sure I’d agree with that – I’ve grown to like The White Album more in recent years, and Sandinista! just seems misguided, and egotistical to me.   The one thing I really do like about the album overall though is the production.

That being said – there are shades of brilliance, and “The Call-Up” is the best example of that and ranks among the Clash’s best work.  Musically, “The Call -Up” is one of the Clash’s better reggae/dance experiments.  It’s almost danceable, and its laid back and dreamy groove almost entirely glosses over the bitterness in the lyrics.  It’s a rallying cry for blind-patriotism that often sends young kids to their death  “You must not act the way you brought up,” Joe Strummer sings softly, almost with a hint of sympathy. Later he laments,  “All the young people down the ages/they gladly marched off to die/Proud city fathers used to watch them/Tears in their eyes.”  Sometimes The Clash could be too specific in their attack, but lines like these transcend time, and still applicable almost 30 years later.

I’ve got to admit that “The Call-Up” didn’t even really register on my list of songs from Sandinista! until I saw the Pogues a few years ago.  The connection between the Pogues and The Clash is no secret.  Shane MacGowan is known to have attended their shows in the late ’70s, and Joe Strummer took over the singer’s duties when he was forced out of the band.  Before the show started, the PA blasted “The Call-Up” and I realized how powerful of a song it was.  It’s dark groove proved a perfect introduction for the Pogues – fun sounding songs with serious lyrics.  As John Lennon once said, “Imagine was an anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic [song], but because it’s sugar-coated, it’s accepted.”

The Call-Up:

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The Pogues

For the first time since 2005, the Pogues are  not touring in the US around March.  For 3 years in a row, it was an annual ritual for my friends and I (and sometimes my brother) to go see the Pogues right before Patty’s Day.  These shows were always a blast, and sometimes chaotic.  

I can’t say that I’m surprised that they’re not touring. In fact, I’m surprised that Shane MacGowan is still alive.  The singer might be second to Keith Richards in terms of rock excess.  We were always relived when MacGowan came on stage.  It didn’t matter  you could barely understand him, or that he slurred his way through the vocals.  Up until fall 2005 when I bought tickets for the first show, I would never thought I would see the Pogues live.  

If you’ve never heard of The Pogues (and to me this seems odd) they’re pioneers of Celtic-rock bands such as Flogging Molly and Drop-Kick Murphys.  But where the other bands seem to emphasize the rock aspect more, the Pogues played more like the Chieftans on speed and MacGowan’s talent as a song-writer towered them above their peers. A lot of their music does revolve around drinking – but it’s also both personal and political.   It’s fitting when the cops in The Wire held a wake they gathered together in a bar and blasted “Body of An American”.  It’s triumphant.  It’s sad.  And it’s about drinking. And it has a great sing-along chorus: “I’m a free-born man of the USA!”  

Perhaps more than any other band I’ve listened to, the Pogues always seemed like a gang.  A gang from Ireland where your best mates are also your enemies.  When you become too close you implode.  But you can never really leave and you’re always welcomed back with open arms.  How many times has Shane MacGowan been kicked out?  Does it really matter?  He’s singing now and chugging whiskey on stage just like the old days.  When The Pogues toured these past few years, it had the hint of nostalgia for sure – nostalgia for a world that doesn’t exist anymore.  

Body of An American:


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