Elvis Costello put in an appearance on stage during the Pogues' Saturday night show at the Vic, but nobody can accuse him of trying to steal the Irish band's thunder — or of upstaging his girlfriend, bassist Cait O'Riordan, the only female Pogue.
Earlier, rumors had it that Costello, who produced the Pogues' rousing Rum, Sodomy and the Lash album, would be joining the folk-punk group in concert, the crowd was eagerly expecting him. But Costello apparently was in no hurry to get into the act; he clearly had to be coaxed out on stage during one of the band's several encores. After adding his voice to a chorus or two of one song and get a hug from O'Riordan, the British rocker scurried back to the wings, seemingly happy to be out of the spotlight.
As for the Pogues themselves, the band's first show in Chicago was everything that you might expect from a band whose publicity releases boast that their music can "wilt a shamrock at 50 paces."
This eight-piece group is frequently described as a "punk Clancy Brothers," and the tag is apt. Like the Clancy Brothers and other Irish folk acts, the Pogues play mostly traditional Irish songs [plus some originals in the folk vein], accompanied by accordion, concertina and tin whistle as well as guitars and drums. But while the material may be rooted in antiquity, the attitude and edge are pure punk [The band's name, for instance, is taken from the first word of a mildly vulgar Gaelic insult.]
Folk purists might howl, but the combination is a winning one that embodies the appeal of both musical worlds. While respecting the old traditions, the Pogues have added a rocking edge that broadens their timeless appeal.
Though it translates well to larger stages, the Pogues' engaging sound is basically pub music, frequently sloppy but always lustily spirited. Diffident lead singer Shane MacGowan isn't much of a showman; the most striking thing about him is his apparent inability to get through a number without a cigarette. [The only time he didn't have one in hand was when the band swung into a song before he was able to light the next smoke, and he had to stick it behind his ear until the next instrumental break]. He's not the kind of guy to put on airs, either when he has a drink on stage [which he does, often] it's right out of the bottle.
If you're a hard rock or punk fan who has always written of traditional folk music as tame, boring stuff, check out the Pogues. They just might make you change your mind.
Saturday's concert opened with a set by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, a painfully amateurish folk music and comedy duo who tackle tired targets such as MTV and TV evangelists with vulgar glee and seem pathetically obsessed with masurbation. It's time to grow up, guys. Or at least come up with something funny. There were plenty of low points during the set, but probably the lowest one of the evening came when Nixon, in a bid to gain the attention of restless and unamused Pogues fans, ran into the audience, jumped atop a table and sang "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" while beating himself on the head with a large plastic water jug.