Over the weekend: The Pogues at the Ogden Theatre
Friday, October 23, 2009
Better than: expected. Much better.
"Sorry it's taken us awhile to get here," guitarist Philip Chevron said during the Pogues' first show ever in Denver. "Almost thirty years in fact, but we finally got here." But holy Jesus, the epic two-hour set these guys delivered was more than worth the wait.
There had been some less than favorable accounts of frontman Shane MacGowan's at a few other dates on the current American tour, but MacGowan delivered a damn fine performance at the sold-out Ogden Friday night, much better than what a lot of folks might have expected due to his drug and booze-soaked reputation. After the band took the stage as the Clash's "Straight to Hell" played on the sound system, a roadie gave MacGowan a lit cigarette and the singer came out wearing sunglasses an oversized black and white striped sweater that made him look, as a friend pointed out, a bit like a Love and Rockets Bubbleman.
But once MacGowan started singing, it was easy to look past the sweater as he's still got some fine pipes, even if was tough to make out what he was singing about at times. He was fairly easy to understand on the first two cuts -- "Streams of Whiskey" and "If I Should Fall From Grace From God" -- but it was more of challenge on "The Broad Majestic Shannon," with MacGowan slurring the hell out of the words. His in between song banter was even less decipherable, but none of that really mattered. That's MacGowan for you. That's what he does.
While it might be a minor miracle that MacGowan made it through the entire set without taking a spill, it wasn't at all surprising that the rest of the guys in the band, most of whom have been with the Pogues since the beginning, were was spot on. Spider Stacy was an ace on the tin whistle and singing on "Tuesday Morning," and the stoic Chevron sang superbly on "Thousands Are Sailing."
The band completely nailed the more energetic songs like "If I Should Fall From Grace From God From God," "Sunnyside of the Street," the "The Irish Rover" and "Boys From Country Hell." They also delivered some first-rate versions of slower tunes like "A Pair of Brown Eyes," "Kitty" and two of the night's many highlights: "Old Main Drag," which Stacy said was about death and stuff, and "Dirty Old Town."
By the time the group finished the set with an insanely rousing take on "The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn," one of five tunes the band played from the brilliant 1985 release Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, it was hard to think it could get any better. But after some enthusiastic applause, the Pogues came back for "Star of the County Down," "Rainy Night in Soho" and "Sally MacLennane," followed by a second encore that included "Paddy on the Railway" and a vigorous take on "Fiesta," which featured Stacy repeatedly smacking his head a cookie sheet.
Just before the band the left the stage for the night, Stacy told the amped-up Ogden crowd, "You're fucking great. You're fucking brilliant. Can we play here every week?"
PERSONAL BIAS: I was a bit skeptical going into the show, but it only took a few songs to throw any doubts out the window.
RANDOM DETAIL: Shane MacGowan kept his sunglasses on for nearly the entire show, only lifting them up a few times.
BY THE WAY: Denver was one of seven cities on this tour that the band has never played before.