Review of their gig in the Point Theatre, 20th December 2001
Even as re-unions go, who could have thought it? All the original Pogues (bar early departee Cait O Riordain) on one stage, performing songs that many people had regretfully consigned to music's 'Never To Be Played Live Again' archive.
But everyone is present and correct, and they look like they never took off the Behan suits they wore a generation ago on the sleeve of 'If I Should Fall With Grace From God.' All the doubts - about MacGowan's health, whether anyone would bother showing up or whether it was worth forking out 30 quid to stand in the Point Barn - are banished with the opening number - as it was, so it shall be, and the walls are shaking to shanty-chorus of 'let me go boys?'
Like all 'greatest hits' reunions, tonight delivers classic after classic, blowing the live dust off songs to a setlist that mirrors the track order on the 'Best of..' CD. But there is an urgency tonight, a vibrancy that the Point's concrete floor cannot fully absorb. It sets this night apart, as something distinct from the recent re-hash tours of the Undertones, the Roxy Music etc.
Of course the musicianship is all intact. The group playing sounds tighter than anytime since 'If I Should Fall?', and even post-Pogues tracks are aired - Spider Stacey delivers a particularly warm version of 'Tuesday Morning'. The criminally underrated songwriter/rhythm guitarist Phil Chevron takes the mike for his 'Thousands Are Sailing' and, as for Shane MacGowan, you name it, he's written it - 'Sally McLennane', 'The Broad Majestic Shannon', 'Lullaby of London', and 'Fairytale of New York'. Tonight, everything gets a run-through.
Since the band's slow demise in the late 80s, the Pogues' back catalogue has become, for many Irish listeners at least, a body of work to rival that of the traditional ballad groups - the Clancy Brothers, the Dubliners, the Chieftains, to name but a few. Any pub singer, to guitar amateur in the country will have a couple of MacGowan's songs under their belt, and of course, there's the radio stations' annual love affair with 'Fairytale of New York.'
Add to this the sporadic small-band touring on MacGowan's own part, and the inevitable Late Late Show media voyeurism, and it could be claimed that the Pogues have never really gone away at all. Minimal advertising sells out the Point, and the thousands here tonight insists on singing. Could the Pogues now be our alternative U2?
Of course not. Despite the rapturous reception afforded them tonight, and an apt appearance by the Dubliners for the closing 'Irish Rover', the main achievement of the evening is the raising of two smoke-stained fingers to those people who wrote the Pogues off, attacked them, or simply wished they'd go away.
Fellow writers and media junkies (Bono, Sinead O Connor, to name but two) have, in recent years, began to elevate a bewildered Shane MacGowan to the level of 'true Irish poet'. Something, of course, that the fans had said from the start. The Point gig was the realization, on a bigger and broader level, of this. Tonight the Pogues got the Dublin reception that was their due over 15 years ago.