The Pogues, with Shane, St. Patrick’s Day 2008

When I heard that The Pogues were playing in Manhattan on St. Patrick’s Day this year, I snatched up two tickets quicker than Shane on a bottle of Jameson. I had no idea that Shane MacGowan reunited with the band; I saw his solo effort with the Popes many years back when he toured for the excellent album, The Snake. That was a great and memorable concert at a crammed venue somewhere in the city that I can no longer recall. Could have been CBGBs for all I know, but I doubt it. It was so jammed full of fans that the ceiling was dripping condensation. I found an old friend, Ned Sanyour, on LinkedIn and asked him about the show. Hopefully he’ll drop in.

This time at the Roseland Ballroom there was plenty of space. They did 3 shows there, and we saw the last, on St. Paddy’s Day. To the venue’s enduring shame, the only beer they serve is Bud, Bud Light, and Beck’s. Luckily I filled up on Guinness at the nearby Old Castle Pub on 54th, a decent little place. Had the requisite Corned Beef and Cabbage as well, since the only other Irishman in my family can’t stand the stuff. You can say what you like about boiled Irish food (I much prefer a full breakfast!) but it makes a fine drinking foundation.

The opening band was called Olin and they’re a Mexican Klezmer band as far as I can tell. Lively horn section, accordions and percussion, reminiscent of klezmer and honky town Mex bands like the Texas Tornados. They were good fun and put on a solid set. I wish their album was on sale at the show!

Shane looks a lot better than in ’92 or so!

It took an hour between sets to get Shane liquored up enough to sing, apparently. He was in fine form, though. Much better than when I saw him with the Popes- back then he was hanging on the mike stand for dear life, looked like a bag of bones with a dash of stubble. He’s a big chubbier now and looks healthy enough, if prematurely aged from his hard-drinking life. They began with one of my favorites, “Streams of Whiskey.” I managed to grab video of this one, the bass is rather high but the speaker held up better this time.

One night as I slept, I dreamt I drank with Behan…
Second up was “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” and they played many classics. Only a song or two I didn’t recognized. The audience was quite active but not rowdy. We were right in front of the soundboard so my photos are far and blurry. Shane had a big top hat on, looking like the Artful Dodger after years on the Old Main Drag.

Shane and his Artful Dodger hat.

They didn’t just do their famous rockers, he also sang “Kitty,” one of their most somber. Shane took a few breaks to let other members sing- most notably “Thousands are Sailing,” one of their heartfelt, most trad-sounding songs. There was another song from “a chick flick” as the fellow in the fedora said, but I didn’t recall the title. Another one was “Tuesday Morning, Albert Bridge,” a great song I haven’t heard enough. I forget how good it is.

Sean came back for “Dirty Old Town,” among others. “Dark Streets of London,” was another. Another somber tune, the beloved “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” had us all mourning like only those of Irish blood can. Another favorite, “The Boys from the County Hell” rocked the house. They finished off with “The Irish Rover,” a great send-off for St. Patrick’s Day. “He spun five times around, and the poor old dog was drowned…. I’m the last of the Irish Rover!”

They came back for two encores. I wish I remember all the songs, but I was too excited. “Bottle of Smoke” and “Sally MacLennane” were in one. My all-time fave, “The Sick-Bed of Cuchulainn” ended encore one.

They came back and did an instrumental, a rousing long version of “Poor Paddy,” with Shane singing “poor Paddy’s workin on the railway!!” over and over, and the final song was “A Fairy Tale of New York” done in duet with a singer named Ella Finer, since Kirsty MacColl died in a tragic diving accident a few years back. They danced at the end of it, and I managed to sneak some video.

Not too drunk to dance.

The real finisher had Olin come back onstage and they all played in a long instrumental- “Fiesta,” I think. The pipe player was for some reason bashing his head with a pie plate as percussion, but hey, whatever makes you happy. I like think it was a protest against the Roseland Ballroom’s shitty beer selection. Not my favorite venue, but it’s roomy at least. Flogging Molly played the Fillmore and they had Guinness, but I think that was a smaller crowd. It’s been a great month for Irish bands for me. I’ve seen the Dropkick Murphys before, and they’re a little too punk for me these days (I like their first 2 albums best) but they’d have been a good trifecta. Or Black 47! I need to see them one of these days.

The glow of leprechaun magic.