The Pogues undergo what may be their last U.S. tour

by Brian McCollum

Detroit Free Press (MCT)

4 March 2011


DETROIT — Spider Stacy knows it’s been a while.

“Sorry about that, Detroit,” the Pogues cofounder says immediately after picking up the phone at his London home, sounding almost sheepish. “It’s been way too long.”

For Michigan fans of the Pogues, the iconic group that singlehandedly launched the Celtic-punk genre in the 1980s, it’s been an eon indeed: The band’s definitive lineup hasn’t played here since a 1989 show in Ann Arbor, when vocalist Shane MacGowan — one of rock’s all-time debauched front men — was too drunk to make it through the night’s first song. He was booted from the band two years later.

The MacGowan-less Pogues played a couple of Detroit dates during the ‘90s. But until this week, Michigan hadn’t been on the itinerary since the band’s much-welcomed reunion with the singer in 2001.

MacGowan, tin-whistler Stacy, guitarist Phil Chevron and accordionist James Fearnley will lead the eight-member Pogues into the Royal Oak Music Theatre for a Friday show, night two on the band’s 10-date U.S. tour.

Soak it up while you can. Because the really big news is that this appears to be it: When the Pogues head offstage after a St. Patrick’s Day concert in New York, it will likely mark the end of U.S. touring for the much-loved band.

“We’re kind of winding it down, really,” says Stacy. “As far as touring in the future, we won’t be coming to America, certainly not for what we would call a long tour like this one.”

Stacy, who handled many of the lead vocal duties during MacGowan’s absence in the ‘90s, won’t be missing from the States. A periodic collaborator with the likes of Patti Smith and Tom Morello, he bought a New Orleans home with his wife last spring.

“If it was up to me, we’d just play America constantly,” he says, laughing.

In some ways, it’s a miracle the Pogues ever re-formed in the first place. The band’s groundbreaking Irish-rock fusion was a potent force of nature when it hit the London scene in the early ‘80s, with MacGowan’s swaggering, staggering persona as much a treasure as a liability: The ‘89 Ann Arbor gig — still recalled vividly by those who were there — wasn’t out of the ordinary for the hard-living singer, whose binges had brought him infamy back home.

That same energy fueled the raw soulfulness of the Pogues’ music, which sank punk teeth into original tunes and traditional Irish fare and even produced what has become one of Britain’s most enduring Christmas songs, “Fairytale of New York.”

But time, it seems, may finally have taken its toll.

“It’s the wear and tear, really,” says Stacy, who at 52 is the group’s youngest member. “It’s just becoming increasingly hard to drag us all around. And not just Shane. In regards to Shane — who obviously is the one we need — he’s still capable of standing up for two hours and putting in a really good show. But it’s all the traveling, and everything else, that he finds really, really tiring. We all do, but he finds it particularly hard.

“You really notice it when you start getting a bit older, and also when you clean up your act a bit as well,” he says, laughing.

There has been one notable omission since the band’s 2001 reunion: a new album. That was a conscious choice for the Pogues, says Stacy. The group resisted the temptation that trips up other acts who try to recapture glory days but wind up “wishing they hadn’t lifted up that particular stone.”

“I think it would be pretty difficult — impossible, pretty much — for us in 2011 to come up with something we’d call a Pogues album,” he says. “You have to be honest with yourselves. If we’d been working — writing and recording solidly and never split up — hopefully we’d have been doing as Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds have done, just carrying on making great music all those years. But we stopped. And you can’t go back to what you were 20 years ago, because you’re simply not that person anymore.”

But Stacy and company have watched with pride, and occasional consternation, as the style they invented became a musical phenomenon.

“It’s not something we set out to achieve, but it’s very flattering, obviously,” he says of the Celtic-punk bands that came after the Pogues. “But having said that — and I don’t want to sound too curmudgeonly — I do think there’s a tendency that some people think all you need to be like the Pogues is to write songs about getting drunk. Obviously that’s not the case. Then again, you have a band like the Dropkick Murphys. I think of all the bands that followed in our footsteps, the Dropkicks are the ones that really stand out. If we’re responsible, then I’m a proud parent.”

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