Tour claims farewell, but the Pogues play on
The legendary insobriety of their lead singer and a five-year breakup in the ’90s notwithstanding, the Pogues have always been as reliable, festive, and fueled by tradition as St. Patrick’s Day itself. Like the annual inevitability of that holiday (and usually timed to it), the Irish folk-punk band has toured these parts almost as regularly since reuniting in 2001, always accompanied by the inevitable questions concerning Shane MacGowan’s condition and his ability to deliver the goods.
That all-too familiar scenario may not be the case much longer. The group’s brief 10-date trek, which swung into the House of Blues Friday for the first show of a two-night, sold-out stand, is being billed as “A Parting Glass With the Pogues,’’ and band cofounder Peter “Spider’’ Stacy has claimed that while nothing is ever absolutely final, the eight-piece unit has no plan to return to the United States in the foreseeable future. And by any measure of logic, really, the end was bound to come sometime for a group that has not written new material or made (or desired to make) a new album in more than 20 years.
And yet, as lovely and lamenting as some of the old songs felt during the first installment of what amounted to its de facto farewell — most especially, the sweetly swaying “Pair of Brown Eyes’’ and the tender embrace of “A Rainy Night in Soho’’ — MacGowan and his cohorts offered little indication from the stage that this was indeed the end.
Rather, it mostly felt like any other recent Pogues show, with a reasonably coherent MacGowan lurching about and growling the lyrics to the traditional tin whistle-flavored opener, “Streams of Whiskey,’’ then lumbering off a few numbers later to cede the spotlight to Stacy and his gorgeously breezy “Tuesday Morning.’’ That selection, one of the prettiest and catchiest in the Pogues’ repertoire and a highlight of their 90-minute set, was a reminder of just how deft and versatile they could be when they shrug off the stifling weight of MacGowan’s excesses (and the onstage uncertainty that comes with it) and all of those waltz-time reels.
That said, an immersion into tradition not trends is what has ultimately always driven the Pogues and brought its audiences out in droves coming to revel in the old not the new. This is a band, after all, that long ago made standards such as “The Irish Rover’’ and the harmonica-laced “Dirty Old Town’’ a gutter reverie all its own (Friday’s toasted renditions triggered mass singalongs).
Even MacGowan’s own compositions — such as “The Body of an American,’’ buoyed by banjo and accordion — sounded ancient, as if passed down through generations. Which it may well eventually be, even after the seemingly improbable happens, and the indefatigable Pogues are finally, irretrievably, history.
The night’s openers, Titus Andronicus, came on with a blustery set of indie-rock anthems of surrender and self-loathing that were by turns barbed, brawny, and bleak as their home state of New Jersey.
Jonathan Perry can be reached at email@example.com.