The Pogues review – triumphant tribute to energy and poetry of band’s early days

The Pogues review – triumphant tribute to energy and poetry of band’s early days

With late frontman Shane MacGowan replaced by a succession of guests, this 40th anniversary show for the Pogues’ debut album, Red Roses For Me, could so easily have been a pale imitation, glorified karaoke. And yet, it’s utterly triumphant. There are no overwrought speeches during this evening curated by the band’s co-founder Spider Stacy, only a brief dedication to MacGowan and other departed bandmates Darryl Hunt and Philip Chevron, and the Dubliners’ Ronnie Drew before The Irish Rover. Instead, they pay more fitting tribute by tapping back into the tornado of energy, passion and poetry that made the Pogues thrilling to begin with.

Within a nanosecond of opener Transmetropolitan, it’s pandemonium amid a sell-out crowd who burst instantly into a hundreds-strong mosh, bellowing back every word. The Battle Of Brisbane pushes things even higher; Greenland Whale Fisheries a notch higher than that. By Boys From The County Hell, it’s totally feral.

A relentless band, also featuring Goat Girl’s Holly Mullineaux and Fontaines DC’s Tom Coll, thrive off that energy. Garbed in suave black suits they pose and posture, James Fearnley wielding his accordion as if he’s Hendrix with a guitar. Their real genius, however, is the space they leave for their guests to make things their own. Experimental duo Stick in the Wheel bring a cutting edge to Dark Streets of London. A precise and dramatic Jim Sclavunos conveys every ounce of sorrow in anti-war song The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

James Fearnley.View image in fullscreen

Young Brighton newcomers the New Eves deliver a particularly manic Waxie’s Dargle, whirling their way around the stage between bombarding verses. Tellingly, it’s this that prompts Stacy to mention MacGowan for the first time. “That one’s for Shane. He’s here, I can tell,” he says, visibly emotional.

Stacy is a charming presence, using his tin whistle as a conductor’s baton, and takes the pressure off the occasion through constant self-effacement. “From the sublime to the ridiculous,” he jokes after Nadine Shah – who’s transcendent The Auld Triangle is the finest performance of all – is followed by the sprightly Repeal of the Licensing Laws.

Under Stacy’s easy control the gig sparks with spontaneity. Iona Zajac gatecrashes Daragh Lynch of Lankum’s Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go for a MacGowan-esque scream-off; Zajac, the New Eves and the Deadlians’ Sean Fitzgerald dance chaotically across the stage during The Irish Rover; a genuinely unplanned encore after the house lights come on sees all the guests at once reprise Streams Of Whiskey. Unruly but never unfriendly, emotional but never mawkish, there could be no finer tribute to MacGowan than this.