Place: The Mean Fiddler , Dublin
Source: Hot Press
Author: Peter Murphy
Contributor: Terje Oeye, Bergen, Norway
Shane MacGowan has always served as a patron angel for the pissed dispossessed, but I was still gob smacked by the sheer volume of bumfluff-bearded hillbillies and Wonderbra’d barflies that made a mutant barn dance out of this Saturday night stand on Wexford Street. Only the Pope could possibly satisfy such a barrel-chested rabble.
But then, not many bands can open with “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” (sporting Bo Diddley-Aye inflections in place of the original Cajun accent) and avoid peaking early. Shane is still a ghost of a man, but he’s in good vocal repair, barking out “This land was always ours/lt was the proud land of our fathers” like the prodigal republican son of Woody Guthrie.
Strangely enough, tonight’s performance was built around the very old and new, with the rakish “Donegal Express” (“I might’ve fucked your missus/But I never fucked your daughter/Diddley-aaaah”) representing the sole selection from The Snake. A lesser songwriter would still be flogging that album for all its worth, but then MacGowan has a deep well to draw from.
Besides, the new stuff is also well up to par. “Paddy Rolling Stone” showcases the Popes (a motley bunch of punch-drunk fiddlers, box-bashers and banjo-manglers) at their reprobate best, and although the outfit’s mongrel approach to roots music may have been patented by Fearnley, Finer and friends, these guys also know their hoe-downs from their highland swings. And in the long run, it’s songs like the Hank Williams waltz of “Lonesome Highway” that will secure the captain’s place on the walls of the city’s boozers alongside the usual line-up of Paddy poet laureates.
But of course, the whole Pogues gallery also rocked the house. The set-list read like a litany written in blood ‘n’ beer. A stirring “Broad Majestic Shannon” , an evergreen-around-the-gills “The Boys from the County Hell”, the O’Riada meets Johnny Rotten rumpus of “The Body of an American” , all rendered with grand gumption, guts and gusto. The pace was relentless: “Streams of Whiskey”, “The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn” , “Dirty Old Town” , “Sally MacLennane” , “The Irish Rover” – death-dirges and drinking songs flashed by like the months of a misspent youth. Life, as TS Elliot never said, is measured out in puke stains. This was as much fun as one heterosexual could have while being wedged in by a pack of unshaven, sweat-drenched, shirtless drunks. Sure, there may have been more graft than magic invoked, and at times the whole skeleton crew were stomach pumping out the crowd-pleasers rather than plumbing the collective unconscious. But, ultimately this was the underbelly of the Irish experience groaning out loud. In the invisible republic, Shane will always be the only presidential candidate that matters.