Menace to Sobriety – Shane MacGowan Slurs Through the Motions

Source: The Daily Californian
Date: 25th August 1995
Author: Ben Peters
Copyright: (c) Copyright 1995, The Daily Californian. All rights reserved.

As Shane MacGowan stumbled off the stage at the Great American Music Hall on Wednesday night, it was obvious that he couldn’t put on a bad performance if he tried. And boy, did he ever try. Nearly falling down drunk throughout the 80 minute showcase of his new band, Shane MacGowan and the Popes, he still managed to keep the crowd in state of moshing euphoria.

Of course, most fans know exactly what to expect from the former Pogues frontman. MacGowan is a renowned alcoholic and former heroin addict; as one fan who bought tickets to both the Wednesday and Thursday night shows said, “It looks like he’s on his last legs, so I figured I ought to see him now.”

He was wrong. It might be too late to say he’s on his last legs, considering he needed all his concentration — and the microphone stand — to keep himself upright.

The band took the stage dressed in black and immediately launched into an early Pogues favorite, “Streams of Whiskey.” No doubt, streams of whiskey were likely pouring down MacGowan’s throat before showtime. He was frequently off beat, and even skipped an entire verse. This even warranted raised eyebrows from a few of the Popes, and gave some idea of what was to come.

The ever-resourceful MacGowan had no problem during the one song where he completely forgot the lyrics, cleverly replacing the verse with “Da, Da, Da’s.” The audience could find no wrong in MacGowan, though, as they disregarded his flaws and danced joyously to the frantic beat of his pumped-up Irish drinking songs.

The band played a total of 19 songs, only seven of them from MacGowan’s new solo effort, The Snake. But no one came out to hear the new stuff, which is rather generic and juvenile compared to any Pogues recording. They were there to see MacGowan and to hear his voice, which now sounds about 1,000 liters of gin beyond gravel.

MacGowan mumbled out a brisk introduction to each song, providing a source of endless entertainment for the audience. A resounding “What!?!” could be heard throughout the house when MacGowan introduced the second song of the show, but soon we all learned to listen for key words that might clue us in to song titles. By the time MacGowan introduced “Aumphmahstunerframumaga Fall From Grace With God” (“If I Should Fall from Grace with God,” off the Pogues album of the same name), the crowd had mastered MacGowanese well enough to go wild with anticipation. Even when his words were completely unintelligible the crowd cheered his galliant attempt at speech. If the song was one they all recognized, and it usually was, they would all cheer again, as if to say, “Oh, so that’s what you meant!”

Meanwhile, the rest of the band seemed almost bored with MacGowan’s pitiful state. The guitarist displayed a bit of guilt-driven energy, offering up spirited leg kicks between glances at his catatonic bandmates, who could have been mistaken for statues for the first four songs. The fifth song MacGowan introduced as, well, whatever, and as he walked off the stage we all assumed he meant it was an instrumental. The band responded well to MacGowan’s absense, showing more enthusiasm than at any point of the evening. Oddly enough, the crowd responded with just as much exuberance to good, tight, traditional Irish music as they did to a mumbling drunk.

When MacGowan returned to the stage (with a little help up the stairs from a roadie), the band lost its brief spark. During the encore, after what a particularly uninspired banjo player thought was the last song, MacGowan asked the crowd, “juwannanother?” This could only mean, “Would you like to hear another song?” and the crowd exploded. Realizing that it was still 5 minutes to quittin’ time, the banjo player let out a big sigh and slung the banjo back over his shoulder for one more song.

Of course, the audience didn’t share the band’s apathy: we were all there to see and celebrate Shane MacGowan and his music. He was there for us just as we expected him — in all the inspired, drunken worthlessness that seems to have inspired most of his music. He had us all in the palm of his hand. I wonder if he’ll remember it tomorrow?