"Tell me why people are willing to pay $60 to see an old fucking Irish punk band."
This was the mandate that was handed down by music editor Martin Cizmar when I mentioned my desire to review last night's appearance by The Pogues at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe.
As a person of partial Celtic descent and a longtime fan of noted drunkard Shane MacGowan and his musical talents, this wasn't a challenge I was going to back down from easily. True, the $55 to $60 ticket price that Luckyman was charging (more than the cost of either the U2 or the Monsters of Folk shows) wasn't exactly the kinda chedda you could easily find rattling around in your sofa, but it was an amount worth spending, regardless of the current state of the economy.
The Pogues are one of the seminal Irish rock/folk bands of the 1980s. Infused with a crossbred combination of traditional Emerald Isle musicianship and rampant punk attitude, their vast oeuvre from Red Roses for Me to If I Should Fall from Grace with God is dominated by MacGowan's lush, melancholy vocals and erudite lyrics. Elvis Costello was a huge booster to the band back in the day and even produced 1985's Rum Sodomy & the Lash.
Despite the fact that they more or less peaked in the late 80s (when MacGowan's notorious substance abuse habits reached an apex, forcing his bandmates to eventually give him the boot), the influence of The Pogues is far-reaching. Their music has helped launch more than the just the likes of Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys. Indie darlings like William Elliot Whitmore and Ingrid Michaelson have cited the band as an inspiration, not to mention a slew of Americana and punk artists who've taken their cues from MacGowan and company. (That even extends to the local level with such bands as The Bollox, Authority Zero, and The Liar's Handshake).
There there's the fact the Pogues have never played Phoenix anytime in their 27 years of existence. It seemed somewhat fortuitous that the Valley even got to host a Pogues gig at all, since they're only making 19 stops on their current U.S. swing (which band members joke is part of an "eight-year-long reunion tour" that started after making nice with MacGowan in 2001). Hell, both NYC and Chicago didn't get concerts this time around.
In many ways Wednesday show was similar to last year's two-night stint by Tom Waits at the Orpheum: not only did both feature sky-high admission, but were also equal parts poetic, powerful, and profound.
When all eight members graced the stage, the packed Marquee was filled with a palpable sense of energy. MacGowan was the last to arrive, slowly shuffling into place like a homeless man while clutching three beers and a lit cigarette (let's see the venue's Gestapo-like security try to tell him to put that one out).
The vocalist is a perfect poster child for the evils of substance abuse, as evidenced by his ravaged body and some near-incomprehensible singing during such opening songs as "Broad Majestic Shannon," "Sally MacLennane," and "If I Should Fall from Grace with God." It's safe to say that the vocalist probably downed a few cocktails prior to showtime. Local musician Shane William Kennedy, who was at the concert, quipped about how there "shoulda been subtitles" for the performance. (It also didn't help that whoever was running the soundboard must've been a trainee, since the levels were way too loud).
Also: the set-list wasn't as inclusive as I'd hoped (would loved to have heard "Summer in Siam," "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda," and possibly even "Fairytale of New York"), those in attendance got a 90-minute-plus set - including two encores - that featured such crowd-pleasers as "Dirty Old Town," "Irish Rover," and "Fiesta."
While MacGowan seemed to amble off stage every other song (and thus letting his bandmates handle the mic duties), he provided some rather entertaining antics during the evening, including plenty of high-pitched howling.
So was it worth the $60? Definitely, says Jason Urias, lead singer of local pop-punk band Plinko.
"Fuck yeah," Urias says. "I woulda paid $300 dollars to see 'em."
Amen to that.
Last Night: The Pogues at Marquee Theatre in Tempe.
Better Than: Monsters of Folk, which one Pogues fan in attendance referred to as the "Sissies of Folk."
Personal Bias: My entire freshman year at Scottsdale Community College was spent listening to Rum Sodomy & The Lash and The Smiths' Best...I repeatedly.
Random Detail: Local Irish band Brid Dower opened the show. The Keltic Cowboys or The Liar's Handshake might've been better fits, IMHO.
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Further Listening: The Best of The Pogues.
By The Way: Jesse Wagner, lead singer for the Aggrolites, bummed a light off me in the Marquee's courtyard/patio area.
One More Thing: On the subject of smokes, The Marquee has started selling cigarettes and tobacco-related products in its lobby, which is a godsend for anyone who's forgotten their pack and is shackled in nic-fit hell by the venue's no re-entry policy.