The Pogues and Justin Townes Earle
The House of Blues
Friday, October 30, 2009
Better than: any other pretense for self-destruction this Halloween weekend.
For most of the show, the argument behind me simmered at a level of quiet disagreement--a nudge into the crowd, a quick tug of restraint and a few words exchanged. It took Pogues accordionist James Fearnley running back and forth across the stage midway through their set, stirring the pit into more of a frenzy with each lap, to bring the fight to a head.
That's when the man behind me made his earnest move for the mosh pit, throwing off his collared shirt and lunging toward the stage. He looked a little more like a rabid dog when his girlfriend reared back with a vice grip on his arm and chewed him out well enough to hold him in place for good.
To judge by the conversation's tone, this was familiar ground for these two: The instinct to dive in and throw elbows, and the reasoned voice of someone who's been down this road--blood stains and lawyer fees--a time or two before.
Nice to see that, at least 20 years since the last time the Pogues played Dallas, they had attracted just their kind of crowd.
Shane MacGowan chain-smoked through the set, twice knocking his microphone off the stage, and Spider Stacy wrapped yet another show by abandoning his tin whistle for a baking pan, into which he beat the imprint of his face. They played like a band that kept old demons in check just well enough to put on a fine performance, without pretending to deny the temptations.
Forgiving him the pair of microphone stage dives (which he flirted with all night by playfully tipping the stand forward), MacGowan came across as razor-sharp, silencing the worst fears first by showing up at all, then by leading the band slurlessly through poignant numbers like "Dirty Old Town" and "Old Main Drag"
For livelier songs, including the run of "Irish Rover" and "The Sickbed of Cuchulainn" that ended their main set, the band took up positions at the stage's edge, playing at us seven-across like a firing squad, with Andrew Ranken hidden in back on the drums. For other songs like "Star of the County Down"--which Ranken sang to open the first of two encores--or Philip Chevron's "Thousands Are Sailing," MacGowan left the band for a breather offstage.
Through the fast ones and the slow ones, the crowd's standard response was a sustained salute with fists and tallboys raised high in the air. If it was a fast one, beer flew everywhere.
The big exception was the soaring "Rainy Night in Soho," midway through the first encore, when the beers came down and an easiness washed over the room. A guy who, to that point, had been blocking my view with the Miller High Life he'd held in the air, lowered it for this song. "Dance with your girl," he instructed. "That's what this song's about."
I wanted to check on the couple behind me who'd been arguing earlier, to see how they'd handle that advice, but they were long gone. Could be, they were swaying together to the music somewhere else. Just as likely, they were split up, one in the pit, one at bar, anxiously waiting out the slow times before the chaos of "Fiesta."
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Personal bias: I'd hoped to help spread some more of MacGowan's wisdom from the night, but whether it was slurred or Italian, I just couldn't make heads or tails of much he said between songs. That the one guy nearby who could translate did so in a thick Boston accent didn't help much.
Random note: Justin Townes Earle made for a fun pairing to open the night, before, MacGowan told the audience, he headed straight off to catch a flight. Early Saturday morning, Earle's Twitter stream included this choice update: "I will never fly southwest on Halloween ever again! It's to [sic] early for this shit. Fuckin clowns!"