The Pogues lift a parting glass to the U.S.

a 1988 “Fiesta” with friends

a live “If I Should Fall from Grace with God”

a 1985 “Dirty Old Town”

By Bruce Sylvester

The Pogues have named their six-city concert tour The Parting Glass after a trad ballad that’s long been in their repertoire.  In doing so, they may be telling America a sayonara of sorts, as singer/tin whistler Spider Stacy discussed at www.billboard.com.

The reasons?   Tiredness.   An octet’s cost of touring America with ticket prices set high enough to make it worthwhile even though we’re in a recession.  The impossibility of guaranteeing ticket buyers a quality show given alcohol-driven singer/writer Shane McGowan’s erratic behavior.

Last night at House of Blues, the Pogues ended a two-night Boston visit.   Their show and their crowd were a little bit more subdued than in the past – but only a little bit, fortunately – as they delivered their characteristic mix of rowdiness, populist consciousness and history – with the emphasis on the Irish (“Thousands Are Sailing,” “Poor Paddy”).   James Fearnley leaped and did splits while playing his accordion.   McGowan fell over backwards when he tried to join Stacy in a dance amid “London Girl.”   As for improvised instruments, by evening’s end, Stacy was hitting himself on the head with a metal tray for percussive sounds.

“Rainy Night in Soho,” “Sunny Side of the Street,”  “Fiesta” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes” too were in the cynically upbeat set.  The packed audience turned the late Ewan MacColl’s “Dirty Old Town” into a bittersweet singalong.

Based on the Australian slaughter at Gallipoli during World War I, “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is surely one of the most powerful antiwar songs ever written, with a legless survivor concluding that there are worse things than dying.

Over time, the band’s album titles have well captured the spirit of Poguetry:  Hell’s Ditch; If I Should Fall from Grace with God; Rum, Sodomy & the Lash; Peace & Love.

With instruments such as pennywhistle, banjo, accordion and (played by original Steeleye Span man Terry Woods) gittern, the Pogues have wed punk to trad folk with an attitude that Woody Guthrie probably would have loved.   It’s not hard to imagine him joining them on stage if he were still around – especially given his and McGowan’s parallel strengths and weaknesses.

Irish, English, Catholic, Protestant, straight, gay – there’s been room for all kinds of people within the Pogues.   Their earliest lineup included a woman, Cait O’Riordan, whose husband, Elvis Costello, produced their 1985 American breakthrough, Rum.

So will this tour turn out to really be the Pogues parting glass with America?   Wait and see.   After a few much-needed years off, bands often want to recreate the fun so they return to the road.   Don’t assume that the U.S. won’t again see the Pogues reeling and retching down the sunny side of the street.

About Bruce Sylvester

Bruce Sylvester is a regular contributor to Goldmine magazine.

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