Shane MacGowan and the Popes, Irving Plaza

Source: New York Press
Author: Michael Malone
Copyright: © New York Press 2000

With all the passion the Pogues put into performing and carousing, each gig felt like it might be the band’s last. MacGowan’s taste for excess forced their divorce in the early 90s, and the remaining bandmembers Shanelessly went on their way, recording two lackluster albums before calling it quits. MacGowan, meanwhile, resurfaced with a band cheekily named the Popes. Everyone’s first-round pick in the office dead pool, MacGowan continues to cheat the reaper. Shane and the Popes have released two albums together, and tour fairly regularly.

It’s anyone’s guess as to which Shane will show up for a gig, assuming he arrives at all. Usually it’s the slurring one, stumbling onstage well past fashionably late, clutching the microphone stand for dear life, growling indiscernible salutations to the crowd and performing cursory versions of some of the most heartfelt songs in pop music history. On rare occasions, it’s Shane the dark prince. He, too, slurs and is tardy, but once the music kicks in, he’s all business, firing up the crowd with his hard-won barroom bark and doing vocal justice to the gems he’s penned.

The Irving Plaza crowd was treated to good Shane this night. With a pint glass full of a margarita and a constant stream of cigarettes, MacGowan delivered 75 minutes of ragged brilliance. Peppering his tunes with enough fucks, toorahloorahloos and wackformedaddys to keep the House of Pain types happy, MacGowan, showing a paunch, conducted the band like a sinister maestro as they kicked off with an inspired “If I Should Fall from Grace with God.” Animated and in fine voice, MacGowan tapped into his post-Pogues oeuvre for “Paddy Rolling Stone” and “Donegal Express,” the latter’s chorus of “I might’ve fucked yer missus, but I never fucked yer daughter” always a crowd pleaser. There were traditional covers, along with Pogues classics like “Sick Bed of Cuchulainn,” “A Pair of Brown Eyes” and “Bottle of Smoke.”

And the Popes? Well, they’re no Pogues, but you knew that. More blues than green, they provided capable, if unspectacular, backup, and were warmly received by the crowd. Each song saw the pogo pit extend a bit farther until the entire room was a giant kinetic bob. All the old Pogues concert trappings were there: pools of vomit, bathroom lines extending to the lobby, the bar five-deep, friends holding up colleagues who could not stand on their own, revelers slipping in the beer-and-barf soup after throwing roundhouse punches that missed their marks. And the Mephistophelean mick smiled his crazy, toothless smile at all he’d wrought.

The set closed with a cover of “The Irish Rover,” before the band reemerged for an encore. “Streams of Whiskey” led into Hank Williams’ fittingly titled “Angel of Death,” the song’s dirge-y pace doing nothing to stem the crowd-surfing. MacGowan then brought out Victoria Clarke to share “Fairytale of New York,” that marvelously maudlin duet about a Christmas Eve spent in a jail cell. As the Popes delivered the swaying melody, MacGowan tried to engage Clarke in a waltz. Perhaps the only one in attendance not won over by him, she resisted, and the pair crashed clumsily to the floor. It certainly wasn’t the first time a show ended with Shane MacGowan on his ass. But the man’s work was done, and no one in the room would begrudge him his rest.