When I first heard that Shane MacGowan was leaving the Pogues, I wasn't sure of their ability to carry on without him. Those fears were put to rest when I heard Waiting for Herb, their 1993 studio release. After hearing their latest record Pogue Mahone, and seeing them live at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. I am convinced that they can not only cut it in the studio, but also live!
The Pogues line up is currently as follows: Spider Stacy on vocals, Jem Finer on guitar, banjo, saxophone, and hurdy Gurdy, Jamie Clarke on guitar, Darryl Hunt on bass, Andrew Ranken on drums and mouth organ, James McNalley on the accordion, and piano, and David Coulter on the fiddle. There's also a didjeridu in there somewhere. The vast diversity in instrumental skills among the band members is a small indication of how talented they are as a band.
The songwriting of the Pogues is impeccable. Most of the songs are written in the Irish folk vein, mixed with an abundance of rock and pop. The songs are incredibly catchy and bouncy, making the live show an highly energetic one from the audience's perspective. There are few songs, if any at all, that fail to appeal.
Unlike many bands today, the Pogues are highly unpretentious. Their entrance was very laid back---the band members walked up to the stage and picked up their instruments very casually. This might have to do with the fact that they appeared slightly inebriated. Throughout the show, the same level of casualness was maintained and it made the proceedings even more fun.
Among my favourite Pogues' tunes are ones that have the middle-eastern sound to them, like The Turkish Song of the Damned and Girl from Wadi Hammamat. Unfortunately, the latter wasn't played when I saw them, but the former (which was introduced by the didjeridu) was the highlight of the show for me. Their set consisted of songs mostly from the period after MacGowan left. From the new album, these were: (from memory, and in no particular order) How Come, Living in a World without Her, When the Ship Comes In, Love You 'Till The End, and Anniversary. From Waiting for Herb: Tuesday Morning, Haunting, Once Upon a Time, Sitting on Top of the World, Modern World, and Big City. They also played old classics such as White City, Dirty old town, The Sunny Side of the Street, Rain Street, Fiesta, and Year, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. They came back for two encores, and I think Stacy and the rest of the band were genuinely pleased at the crowd response.
Opening for the Pogues was Hamell on Trial, a one-man act. The performance was a combination of fierce acoustic guitar work and vocals, with a reasonable dose of humour in-between songs. Some of the humour worked, and some of it didn't, and some of the lyrics were pretty funny. However, even though Hamell on Trial appeared to be a talented guitarist from a technical perspective, I thought some of the riffs were a bit repetitous. While this is necessary to hold audience attention sometimes, especially for a one-man act, I also thought he went a bit over the top with his guitar playing. He was a definitely an interesting act, and worth checking out if you're into that sort of thing.
This was my first time at the new 9:30 club, and I must there has been an amazing improvement from the old dungeon. The bathrooms are actually clean, it's no longer hot and stuffy, there's lots of room and prime viewing spots. The acoustics are better too, and I think the atmosphere is really cool.
A Pogues live show is definitely a great deal of fun, and you end up having a good workout to boot. The songs seemed bouncier and more energetic live, and this is definitely one of the best shows I've been to this year thusfar.