Review of his gig in the Olympia Dublin, 11 Aug 2001
Twenty years on and he's still packing them in. Flying in the face of all reason and common sense Shane MacGowan is more popular in Dublin nowadays than any time since his split with the Pogues.
It's no surprise, as well over half the people in the Olympia tonight are too young to remember that group's heyday. Most who can are best advised to stay away - as the stumbling middle-aged MacGowan of today does not lie easily alongside the inspired Behan-poet of the 80s.
For those who have come tonight all the basic ingredients are here. The main act arrives almost two hours late, giving the crowd plenty of time to get warmed (and pissed) up. When he does it's waving a bottle of something or other, burning himself with a cigarette, and muddling his own lyrics.
But despite the pisshead roleplaying the reason the Olympia is full tonight is simple - the songs. MacGowan's recent gigs have begun to outdo U2 in the singalong stakes. Backed by the work-a-day Popes (a glorified London pub band), he belts his way through the 'best of' classics.
'Rainy Night in Soho', 'The Broad Majestic Shannon' and raucous versions of 'Dirty Old Town' and 'Irish Rover' put the fans into a frenzy, but also serve to highlight the dearth of decent songs MacGowan has written in the past ten years.
The resultant lowpoint of the evening was the singer's indulging of the crowd with his new-Paddy Republican odes. Transforming the Olympia into an armchair-IRA social meeting remains a cheap trick, regardless of how often the singer asserts his bona fide Republicanism. And the fifth-rate pub-trad of songs like 'Skipping Rhymes' ('we put the hood around his head/then we shot the bastard dead') was simply embarrassing.
But infuriatingly, and always just beneath the surface, there were glimpses of the lyricism, musical talent and sheer presence of the real MacGowan. Despite this never-ending 'greatest hits' tour and the alarming lack of new material, Irish music hasn't produced a songwriter to rival him in his last (missing) ten years.
Maybe that's why people still pay to see him.
But the Olympia performance underlines again just how deeply the myth of Shane MacGowan has become entangled with the reality - and the fact that nobody, least of all MacGowan himself, seems prepared to sort the mess out.
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