OK, to get this out of the way: The Pogues at 9:30 last night was the best show I have ever seen in my life. It was fucking religious. And although I’ve no idea how Shane MacGowan has kept his liver from sliding down his pantleg after all these years, he has and he was upright and it was enough.
1. MacGowan still sounds just as he did on studio albums cut in the ’80s. It’s the same chewing-on-a-driveway/smooth as cream voice, even more remarkable considering that, true to legend, he actually could not speak—the only semi-intelligble words I heard were, “Hello Wasssshhhton.” He dropped his mike, missed his mouth with a bottle of mystery booze kept at his feet; he looked pasty and near-death and when he occasionally walked offstage, he came back even more shattered. Yet after 25 years, after breakups and canceled shows, after the death of Joe Strummer and guitarist Phillip Chevron‘s recent bout with cancer, MacGowan and his long-suffering bandmates brought it, firing through a near-perfect setlist. It wasn’t groundbreaking—starting with “Stream of Whiskey” and ending, after two encores, with “Fiesta”—but it contained gems both rocking and nostalgic: “If I Should Fall from the Grace of God,” “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” “The Body of an American,” “Dirty Old Town,” “Sunnyside of the Street,” “Bottle of Smoke,” “Sick Bed of Cuchulainn,” and, a personal fave, “Rainy Night in SoHo.”
2. Founding member and tin whistler Spider Stacy took the lead on a couple of songs, including his “Tuesday Morning.” In a word: lovely. The band, with him at the helm, will likely live on (again) after MacGowan.
3. MacGowan, in an old tradition he borrowed from Stacy, beat his head with a beer tray at the end of “Fiesta.” And did not fall down.
4. This was after his on-pitch screaming during several spirited numbers.
5. And a number of cigarettes onstage. If the drink hasn’t killed him, I don’t think D.C. law can really touch him.
6. The opening act, London’s Urban Voodoo Machine—with its two drummers, multiple antics, and obvious Tom Waits inspiration—was a great tone-setter. They’re opening tonight, too, and playing the Red and the Black on Tuesday. Definitely worth a look.
7. Up on the second tier, I watched the superfans pogo at the front of the stage and sing every word and, although not a superfan, I felt what they felt. Growing up vaguely a Mick, seeing the Pogues together and hearing them sounding so great was like going home, or at least for me, it was like channeling my life 15 years ago—a college apartment, a couple of roommates from Ireland, a boombox, and the Pogues turned up very, very loud.
There are a few tickets on Craigslist for tonight’s show, some of them reasonably priced. I can’t think MacGowan is going to be around for many more tours, if any, and this one is limited. If you can, go.