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Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Rainy Night in Sodo

posted by on October 20 at 18:54 PM

Updated with photos by Kelly O.


Sentimentality gets a bad rap. Critics—of film, literature, music—stigmatize it as emotional blackmail, pandering to easily provoked feelings. But in the post-post-ironic era, that’s not what it’s about; it’s about feeling something, anything, and it’s far harder and more vulnerable to admit to feeling something than to just be cool and detached and so-yeah-whatever.

Boozy sentimentality is the best kind of sentimentality, because booze is a lens, and looking through it at life is a near-universal process, useful to almost anyone in any place and any era. Boozy sentimentality is sadly misunderstood and underrated. But when you begin to appreciate the Pogues, boozy sentimentality becomes a rare and profound art.


That’s what the band brought to Showbox Sodo last night. Their music is painfully conflicted, the band is habitually fraught with drama, and it all exploded in a beer-soaked Irish-folk-punk gestalt over the course of their two-hour set. At what other show is the studded leather jacket-to-tweed paperboy cap ratio dead even? Where else can you find a crowd-surfing mosh pit in the front and an arm-in-arm jig circle in the back?

Truly great bands run on conflict—not violent, but artistic. John versus Paul. Mick versus Keef. Chuck versus Flava. With the Pogues, it’s Shane versus Everyone Else in the Band. Shane MacGowan—his brilliant lyrics, his punkish growl, his mortifying alcoholism—is the focal point of the Pogues, but the rest of the band is equally responsible for the music. Shane wrote most of the songs, but Jem Finer and Spider Stacy and James Fearnly all contributed heavily over the years. To some extent, they must resent Shane’s recklessness. It’s a loose but useful comparison: They are Chuck D—hardworking, serious, intent. Shane is Flav—wry, volatile, dangerous. It’s one of the several conflicts that make the Pogues a truly great band.


Another: Emotional dissonance. For their first encore, the band played “A Rainy Night in Soho,” one of the all-time most romantic love songs ever. (Conflict within conflict: A drunken love song? Yes. MacGowan may be a wreck, physically, but his romantic spirit has never been broken.) A look around the crowd showed more than a few couples swaying and crying to the song. It was a beautiful moment. And then they played “Irish Rover,” a traditional, revved-up Irish reel, and all tears were bounced out by manic, crowd-wide pogoing.

But I’m getting ahead of the program. You’re certainly wondering, so here’s the answer: Shane looked good. Shane sounded good. Far better on both counts than this time last year when I saw him in San Francisco. The band walked onstage to the Clash’s “Straight to Hell”—the best at-bat song ever—led by Shane in a top hat and Wayfarer shades. He ripped right into “Streams of Whisky” with a strong voice and spot-on timing. They couldn’t have set a more relieved—and in turn celebratory—mood.


One by one, the band—eight strong, with mandolin, guitar, bass, drums, pennywhistle, accordion, and Shane—cranked out album cut after album cut. These songs are timeless: Lusty versions of “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” “Boys From the County Hell,” “Turkish Song of the Damned,” and “Body of an American” (with the crowd chanting along to “I”m a free born man of the USA!”). They’d play a pair with Shane and then he’d leave the stage, the rest of the band ripping into rock ‘n’ roll-inflected numbers in his absence. Pennywhistler Spider Stacey had an especially Strummer-esque inflection to his voice on “Tuesday Morning.”

It was the Pogues’ MacGowan-led hits that frothed the place into a frenzy. They were interspersed through the set, but during the second half of the show—more than an hour in—they all came crashing out: “Sunny Side of the Street,” a top-of-the-lungs singalong to “Dirty Old Town,” mandolin strummed madly. “The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn” ended the set, moshers spazzing out to references to the IRA and Italian fascists.


After the song was finished and the band left the stage, nobody in the crowd moved. This was a drastically special occassion, after all—not just the Pogues, but the Pogues with Shane, and the Pogues with Shane sounding as gutted and angry as ever, and the rest of the band feeling their collective potency.

The encore double-whammy of “A Rainy Night in Soho” and “Irish Rover,” as already stated, cut deep. That transition embodies everything the Pogues can be: beautiful and tragic and gushing with raw emotion. And it is beautiful, despite Shane’s toothless, haggard visage. The music is full of joy, and Shane, the face of the music, is a triumph of human spirit over human frailty. It was a moment frozen in time until the music stopped and the band left the stage once more.


A double encore! The band returned to play “Fiesta,” a horn-driven, Irish mariachi rave-up that had the crowd going nuts. For added percussion, Spider Stacey smashed a tin beer tray against his head. Everyone was singing:

Come all you rambling boys of pleasure
And ladies of easy leisure
We must say adios!
Until we see
Almeria once again

A lot of us flubbed the last line, but there was too much beer on the floor and joy in the air to care about such details.

After they finished, the buzz lingered inside the place, and then carried on outside on the rainy sidewalk. Everything about the night exceeded expectations: Shane was lucid and vibrant, the band was ragingly on, the new venue sounded great. It was, everyone around me agreed, one for the ages—sentimentality be damned.

RSS icon Comments


Thank you for a wonderful review for those of us who could not be there.

Posted by rubyred | October 19, 2007 3:06 PM

Studded leather jacket-to-tweed paperboy cap - I didn't know that could be a ratio. JZ has made it so. Nice, finding the fitting words, JZ.

Posted by trent moorman | October 19, 2007 3:17 PM

jz, you nailed it with this beautifully written post. last night's show was even better than the night before, and thank you for remembering to mention the tin trays.

i don't think we'll ever see the pogues like that again. good on you for documenting such a spectacularly sentimental evening.

Posted by kerri harrop | October 19, 2007 3:28 PM

I'm glad to hear he was looking good and sounding better. Sounds like a far cry from when i saw them in Boston about a year ago.

Jesus, that was a trainwreck...

Posted by Eli | October 19, 2007 3:41 PM

F'ing A JZ. I hope I'm just getting old, but I feel like there aren't bands in line to follow this tradition. There's plenty of music I like, but maybe 'conflict' is what's missing. Then again, maybe it's relevance. Anyway, you can't just manufacture it, it takes years to grow and develop. Maybe I'm just old and sentimental.

Posted by left coast | October 19, 2007 4:23 PM

Wednesday night he dedicated 'Body of An American' to Kurt Cobain, just about the only spoken words I could understand, no surprise there. If you look at video on Youtube from March he looks way better now than he did then, but it might be just his haircut, dude looks like Worzel Gummidge in those March shows. Splendid, one of the best bands ever, and not the kind of reunion tour you will see repeated for the cash, this is like Halley's Comet. Thanks Jonathan for nailing it.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | October 19, 2007 4:28 PM

@6--holy goosebumps. thats a powerful dedication.

Posted by jz | October 19, 2007 4:45 PM

I already regretted not scraping up the cash to go to this, and now I REALLY REALLY REALLY regret it.

Awesome post, Zwickel.

Posted by bunnypuncher | October 20, 2007 12:53 AM

As a member of one of the swaying and crying couples, I gotta thank you for the validation of our gushy sentimentality. Its hard for a provincial punk like myself to live up to the 'cool' of big city Seattle, but it is nice to know that I wasn't entirely scorned. Great review of a great show. The review is one that I am putting in my personal archives.


Posted by Sportinlife | October 20, 2007 9:21 AM

Great review. Although I was up in the front Wednesday night and confirmed it in my photos that Shane looked so hot close up. He was puffy and had red rings around his eyes, he looked kinda like a body pulled out of the water after a few days. My friend remarked to me, "It looks like he's dying." Sad but true, I was amazed he could pull his shit together and put on such a great show. Definitely an emotional experience for me as well.

Posted by Dan Halligan | October 20, 2007 10:59 AM

Uh, that should have been that Shane did not look so hot up front. Shane definitely did not look good, he looked sick.

Posted by Dan Halligan | October 20, 2007 2:01 PM

@10--weird. kelly o, our staff photographer, was right up front too, and she gave the opposite description: he didnt look puffy or swollen or wrung out but thin and rather ruddy.

we should have pics to give a better representation soon. right kelly?

Posted by jz | October 20, 2007 3:40 PM

He looked GREAT, I thought. Not puffy, not stumbling. I think he always looks haggard cuz he needs some frickin' CLACKERS... teeth, man, teeth

Posted by KELLY O | October 20, 2007 7:03 PM

He looked much, much better than the last time I saw him with The Popes in 2001. _That_ was a guy who looked near death.

Posted by Postureduck | October 20, 2007 7:14 PM

Huh, we did go different nights. But if you click my name you can see some of my photos. People were talking about how he looked sick Wednesday and still pulled off a fantastic show.

Posted by Dan Halligan | October 20, 2007 7:25 PM

Thanks for the reviews and photos. They sure had that big barn rockin Thursday. First time to see them and what a blast. They're kind of punkish in the rhythms and fast pacing of their jigs and reels, but I was surprised at the moshing and preponderance/"ratio" of black leathered punker types in the capacity crowd. I guess the whistle player smashing a beer tray against his forehead is punkish too, but I don't really equate bazoukis, mandolins, acoustic guitars, whistles, accordions, citterns and banjos with punk. No violin? Nope. We ventured up to the edge of the mosh for the last few songs. By then it had simmered a little, atleast they weren't surfing or holding up guys upside down.

Yeah, Shane MacGowan was drunk and drinking, and seemed lost at the start of a couple songs, but nothing like hanging on the mic stand to stay off the floor, like I've read. He sure has a powerful voice, especially evident from his whoops between songs. Too bad, like Dylan sometimes, it was hard to make out his interesting lyrics. Might say his delivery is somewhere between Tom Waits and Johny Rotten.

I couldn't help think of Kirsty MacColl, and that we''ll never hear her sing with MacGowan on Fairytale Of New York again.

The Pogues' two night stand at ShowDo sure raked in some dough. Unlike other indoor area venues of its size, you can drink $5 22 ounce Pabsts and whatever else while watching the show. Let's see, 2 shows x 1,800 people x $62 ($50 + $12 for TM) , + drink revenue. I like the name of the bar across the street, Hooterville, as Sodo was Hooterville during the Depression.

Posted by Jiff | October 21, 2007 5:20 PM

Not Hooterville, Hooverville :) Yeah, better drink prices than the Showbox and 80s games! I paid $50 for my tickets through the Pogues site before they went on sale locally and only had a $2 fee for mailing them. I agree the Showbox must have made a killing, but I think the band must have asked for a lot, the SF shows are $65 and the LA ones $40/$50.

Posted by Pogues fan | October 22, 2007 8:54 AM

regarding ticket prices: they are dictated by the band's guarantee. venues have obvious costs to cover (sound, lighting, staff, security, blah blah blah) but they aren't making their dough off the door.

any club owner will tell you: there's a lot of profit in booze. and, given the amount swilled in sodo last week, i'm sure both hooverville and the showbox did just fine.

Posted by kerri harrop | October 22, 2007 9:05 AM

@16, it doesn't get mentioned, but I think Fairytale of New York is a classic. That was a sad ending for Kirsty MacColl.

Posted by left coast | October 22, 2007 12:02 PM

"fairytale of new york" is indeed a classic--continually ranks, year after year, as one of the best xmas songs in several UK polls.

when i saw the pogues last year in SF, they played it as their encore. they brought out a femal vocalist--im not sure who--and she and shane traded verses somewhat ably. towards the end of the song, a flurry of fake snow fell from the fillmore rafters onto the stage, and shane wheeled the frightened-looking singer around the stage. it was a pretty awesome moment.

Posted by jz | October 22, 2007 12:27 PM

What I'd pay to have seen that. It's my favorite christmas tune, it just rings so true that I feel stabbing pains listening to it. How many times I walked the streets recalling 'the wind blows right through you, it's no place for the old.'

Posted by left coast | October 22, 2007 1:40 PM

"I was surprised at the moshing and reponderance/"ratio" of black leathered punker types in the capacity crowd"

A lot of people consider The Pogues a punk band and they've always had a huge punk and skin following. Yes, despite the banjo and whistle. And they provided inspiration for Celtic punk bands like The Tossers, Dropkick Murphys, Blood or Whiskey and Flogging Molly. If you watch what's going on in the background during the credits of "The Punk Rock Movie," you can see Shane dancing around with Siouxsie. He also appeared in other punk related movies like "The Filth and the Fury" and "Straight to Hell."

Posted by Dan Halligan | October 22, 2007 2:00 PM

What Dan said! And don't forget cameo in 1987 flick EAT THE RICH...

Posted by KELLY O | October 22, 2007 2:21 PM

@20: the female vocalist doing Fairytale last year during their west coast tour was Ella Finer, daughter of Jem Finer, the Pogues' banjo player. She's pretty much known Shane since she was born, so I'm guessing she wasn't as frightened as she may have appeared on stage.

Posted by dave | October 24, 2007 5:25 AM

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