Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Pogues! On Halloween!

Last year, when the Pogues were set to perform in Los Angeles with scheduled opener Dirty Pretty Things, I'd leapt with anticipation and later kicked myself a bit for deciding at last minute to miss the show.

“What if they never come back?” I cried in thought.

But it would turn out that crossing the Atlantic isn't as rare a move as I'd feared, and the Pogues returned to Los Angeles on Halloween one year later for the first of two dates at the Wiltern Theater. This time, their set was opened by performances from William Elliott Whitmore, whose time on stage played like a front porch conversation, and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, who – as Leo himself noted – had a difficult time sounding impressive knowing they'd be followed by a band like the Pogues.

The Pogues, of course, played a fantastic, vibrant set that lasted nearly two hours and was mostly comprised of tracks from crowd-pleasing albums Rum Sodomy and the Lash and If I Should Fall From Grace With God. A full stage, save for Phil Chevron, who is currently being treated for cancer, and a mostly-full house, save for the upper mezzanine, which was about a third full and contained only a couple of concert-goers dressed for Halloween. The real kicker of the event was Shane MacGowan, whose physical state has deteriorated to the point where the front man, belly and lungs respectively full of liquid and smoke, has become almost akin to a character – should you laugh at him or cry for him? His appearance is certainly in a sorry state, and for all the audience members snickering about his teeth, his limp or his inability to remain on stage for more than four songs in a row, he's looking like an ideal D.A.R.E. campaign these days.

MacGowan's weight gain was partially covered by a long coat in accordance with the night's costume, though from a distance it contributed well to his pirate-esque appearance; he waddled slowly and with a slight hunch, taking breaks from singing every few songs, and in Mark E. Smith fashion, every bit of banter between songs came out sounding like a hearty but unintelligible “ARRRR.” His sung words were easier to interpret than those spoken, though the lyrics were the words we might have already known to recognize, and even these were slurred by a gummy lisp. Judging by the look of his teeth even twenty years ago, it should be that his gums were topped with dentures by now, but going off the sound of his voice, this is not the case. I turned around to ask the guys behind me if they knew the deal with MacGowan's teeth, and word has it that he's got a single tooth left. The abundant gaps in his mouth, paired with his cigarette addiction, have led to a speaking voice that could just as well come from an eighty-year old Irish pirate, and it pains me to note this as further proof that the best musicians are usually the ones with the most troubling issues.

Purchase Rum Sodomy & the Lash
And then purchase If I Should Fall From Grace With God, because it's wonderful.

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