Shane MacGowan: Boozing Celtic Crooner Does Not Disappoint

When former-Pogue frontman Shane MacGowan finally yielded to Guiness-soaked pre-show bellowing and lumbered on stage at New York’s Irving Plaza Thursday night, the boozing Celtic crooner did not disappoint. But when introduced as “a man who won’t be around much longer,” expectations are low.

Wrapping punk’s rhythmic momentum and Joycean lyrical darkness into a furious Celtic brew, MacGowan and his Pogues imported their Clash-meets-Cheiftains aesthetic to college campuses stateside to great avail in the 80s. Ousted from the Pogues in 1991 due to the singer’s legendary guzzling, MacGowan formed the Popes, staggering forward with this year’s haunting and eloquent Warner Brother’s release, The Snake.

Blundering after lost swills of beer, clutching the microphone stand like crutch and squinting bleary-eyed into the shadowy lights, MacGowan — to the delight of his rowdy, testosterone-raging fans — was in true form.

From his black, wing-collared polyester shirt to his meaty sideburns, the surprisingly well-shorn MacGowan looked every bit like Elvis risen from his throne. Slowly shaking his comatose, MacGowan launched the Popes into a sloppy but emphatic run through “Streams of Whiskey,” igniting the mosh pit and burly bar chanters. Drummer Paul Pope set a fever — almost ska — tempo, the floor frenetic with pogoing bodies and pumping fists. The penny whistle and banjo dirge surged on, MacGowan blithely oblivious as he slurred and groaned.

Only “Cracklin’ Rosie” truly broke the singer’s haze, as MacGowan threw himself into Neil Diamond’s mindless refrain, “Play it now! Play it now! Play it now my baby!” with the overwraught zeal of a bar room regular warbling his karaoke favorite. While machine-gun strummer Paul McGuiness (looking every bit like Tina Turner’s muscle-bound sax player in his skimpy t-shirt, greasy hair and mirrored shades) bristled at projectile can hurling, MacGowan — pelted with a soggy sweater during the Pogue classic, “Dark Streets of London” — fashioned a headpiece and plodded on unphased.

Though bodysurfer’s missed their cue as the Popes wound down their riotous show with the sea chanty “Pair of Brown Eyes,” irony-meter readings were off the page as MacGowan and his able-handed bar band closed with “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” and “Bottle of Smoke.” Stumbling thumbs-up off stage, MacGowan’s cirrhosis-inducing performance was a sad display of squandered gifts.

Greeting the apathetic audience’s jeers with a terse “Blow me,” opener John Doe only wished he was as wasted as the Popes. His post-X John Doe Thing sputtered and wheezed with only momentary glimpses of greatness. Wrestling with tuning problems and monitor feedback that stopped one song dead in its tracks, only Doe’s dBish tremelo-spewing strummer “Kissingsohard” (the title track to his current Rhino release) and throbbing “Hit’s the Ground” roused the surley masses. “It’s all got to be fast songs, huh?” Doe queried of the mosh-minded audience before ripping lightening-like through “Living Like Millionaires.”

Fast and drunk, apparently.

This review first appeared on Rolling Stone Online

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