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March 8, 2011

Review: The Pogues, Titus Andronicus at Rams Head Live March 7

The legendary Irish band the Pogues performed with New Jersey upstarts Titus Andronicus Monday night at Rams Head Live. Contributor Evan Haga has this review.

Since 2006, the resurrected Pogues have become a fixture of the St. Paddy’s Day season in the States.

Their shows, which almost always hit the same great-sounding club venues, feature the same hit-parade set list (no new material) and the same spirited band fronted by punk-poet Shane MacGowan, whose drunken romantic persona has been endlessly mythologized.

Their current East Coast jaunt, which hit Baltimore Monday night, is reportedly the Pogues’ final U.S. tour. That's a shame. The seven piece band's propellant blend of Celtic roots and pub-rock fire is still worth paying around $60 for.

But for 53-year-old MacGowan, who looks and sounds like a man destroyed—even by the low standards he set himself—that might be for the best. 

In the past—say, when I caught the band at 9:30 Club in 2009—MacGowan’s condition posed a moral dilemma that was worth overlooking.

There was the suppressed thought that one more tour could kill him, but you couldn’t deny the romance of the situation: He trundled on and off stage like someone shuffling toward the bathroom mid-bender, yet he still knew the tunes well enough to make the correct entrances and exits.

He delivered his melancholy tales of liquor and damaged relationships almost indecipherably, but with the requisite boozy glory.

But last night MacGowan flubbed some of the Pogues' most important tunes, and even his marble-mouthed vocals—a sort of croak mixed with a toothless wheeze—couldn’t mask the missteps. He came in early or late, sang wrong verses at the wrong time, and forgot words altogether.

“If I Should Fall From Grace With God” was unfortunate; “A Pair of Brown Eyes” worse. Which is not to say the set was a washout: MacGowan improved as the night progressed, and did fine with other ballads. (The glaring omission from the set was, once again, “Fairytale of New York.”) He also stayed hydrated with what appeared to be plain old water rather than whiskey.

But another wince-worthy moment was always around the corner. On “London Girl,” which tin-whistle player Spider Stacy introduced as a Northern Soul floor-filler, he fell grossly behind the tempo. Stacy took on most of the emcee duties, though his addresses and tributes weren’t all that lucid either.

Big deal, MacGowan defenders will say. (And there are legions of them, including the guy who jumped onstage only to find that security wasn’t into it.) But it changed the dynamic. Two years ago the whole enterprise felt like a captain leading his pirates through the ultimate barroom songbook.

Here, the experience evoked certain blues shows I’ve been to or heard about: an icon still on the road long after a career has peaked, held up by sharp players who are left to grimace and smirk at one another, trying to anticipate the next unexpected turn.

When MacGowan took a breather and left Stacy to sing “Tuesday Morning,” or let the band rip through the instrumental hell-raiser “Repeal of the Licensing Laws,” it felt like a relief. Throughout the night, the players - several of them sturdy multi-instrumentalists - made a strong case for the power and urgency of acoustic instrumentation.

The giant, jigging mob in front of the stage would have been enviable for even the loudest, most electric punk band. Opener Titus Andronicus, a quintet from New Jersey whose new album takes inspiration from the Civil War, certainly was a loud punk band, and a very good one.

Patrick Stickles on the Civil War, Baltimore and recruiting local talent

Their music combined the stuff of Celtic folk and American roots— the two-beat rhythms, melodies fit for bagpipes—with indie-rock touchstones. (The punk version of Big Country, maybe?) Bearded singer/guitarist Patrick Stickles’ intuitive solos evoked J. Mascis’ playing, and his lyrics had a downtrodden charm worth deconstructing.

Self-loathing and revelry, it seems, will always go well together.

The Pogues set list:

Streams of Whiskey
If I Should Fall From Grace With God
The Broad Majestic Shannon
Boat Train
A Pair of Brown Eyes
Tuesday Morning
Lullaby of London
Sunny Side of the Street
Repeal of the Licensing Laws
And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda
Body of an American
London Girl
Thousands Are Sailing
Dirty Old Town
Bottle of Smoke
The Sickbed of Cuchulainn
Sally MacLennane
A Rainy Night in Solo
The Irish Rover
Poor Paddy on the Railway
Fiesta

 Evan Haga, a frequent Midnight Sun contributor, is the managing editor of JazzTimes. He last reviewed The Cult for the blog. Erik Maza edited this post.

Photo: The Pogues official MySpace


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Posted by Erik Maza at 1:50 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Concert reviews
        

Comments

I take it your not a Pogues fan. Next time try not to let your personal biases and complete lack of understanding of the artist cloud your judgement it makes you look like an ass.

I am a big Pogues fan for many years. Evan was right Shane did come in too soon on IISFFGWG and a couple others but that was early in the show.. When but by the time they did Repeal , he was spot on from that point on...
What I didnt like were the smirks and panic looks the rest of the band faces. I mean they didnt seem to sharp to start the show either.. so whatever. still a great show once they got it together...
long live the pogues !

I am a big Pogues fan for many years. Evan was right Shane did come in too soon on IISFFGWG and a couple others but that was early in the show.. When but by the time they did Repeal , he was spot on from that point on...
What I didnt like were the smirks and panic looks the rest of the band faces. I mean they didnt seem to sharp to start the show either.. so whatever. still a great show once they got it together...
long live the pogues !

Sorry, but the whole Shane spectacle is starting to become sad. It's like the way they prop Dick Clark up on New Year's. I can't imagine seeing the Pogues without him (though I have), but perhaps this should be it. It almost felt like they drag him along simply because they know no one will go see the Pogues without him. Many of the people around me were clearly laughing at him, not with him, and didn't understand or couldn't appreciate, the greatness he once represented. And I agree with Tony, it was disappointing to see other members of the band also clearly showing contempt towards Shane. They need to remember that without his amazing voice, they would never have gained the fame they have.

Hey smarty pantses, it is what it is. There are plenty of corporately compiled pony shows with cave man lyrics for folks to go full retard to. Be grateful these genuine talents gave us another chance to witness this paradoxical masterpiece.

News tip for Eric Maza: You're a douche.

First time I ever saw the Pogues. Have loved their music for years. Shane was uneven but got it together as the show went on. Too bad so much talent has become a trainwreck. People around us were respectful. The opportunity to see Shane and the guys made up for his flubs and wanderings.

I saw last night's show at the 9:30 Club, and this review could apply equally well. The band is tight, plays all the old songs skillfully with little improvisation, people sing along, and Shane is a drunk who inspires amusement or horror depending on your perspective. It was really kind of dull.

Titus Andronicus was much more interesting.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at erik.maza@baltsun.com. Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.
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