I’d searched for Shane MacGowan all afternoon. He wasn’t in McFadden’s. Or at Mr. Dooley’s or J.J. Foley’s. He wasn’t at McGann’s, or in the Harp, or skulking at the Littlest Bar. No surprise, really. Rumor has it that Shane, that paragon of dissolution, can barely walk without assistance these days, so I’d figured the search was futile. He was probably in his hotel room, well into his cups, enablers by his side.
But by the time Shane-o dawdled on stage at the Orpheum on Tuesday, to the thunderous cheers of a few thousand well-oiled Hibernophiles, he seemed none the worse for the already considerable wear. As the seven other Pogues tore through snare-tight versions of the classics (“Sally MacLennane,” “If I Should Fall from Grace with God”), he barely missed a beat. His slurred voice is rough around the edges, but as he clutched the mike stand for dear life, he barely flubbed a word. During “Fairytale of New York,” he waltzed with banjo player Jem Finer’s daughter, Ella (subbing on vocals for the late Kirsty MacColl), as faux snow swooned softly. For the rollicking closer, “Fiesta,” he balanced a wine bottle on his head while piper Spider Stacy bashed a beer tray on his. Guitarist Philip Chevron, posting on the official Pogues message board just hours afterward, expressed his gratitude. “Thank you Boston . . . we’d forgotten . . . how special you are.”
At 8 am on St. Patrick’s Day morning, the martyrs of Easter 1916 looked down from the walls of the Black Rose, solemnly surveying a sea of fake-emerald beads, shamrock trinkets, glow-in-the-dark Guinness gewgaws, Celtics caps, and green mohawks as a capacity crowd, some of whom had been lined up outside since 3 am, chanted for home-town heroes Dropkick Murphys. It was an experienced crowd — one soul carried three pints in his left hand and a pint and a shot in his right — and the band, still bleary-eyed from the late night before, bashed out stripped-down arrangements of trad ballads like “The Auld Triangle,” “The Wild Rover,” and “Black Velvet Band.” Ken Casey prefaced their Southie-parade dig, “Bastards on Parade,” by noting the irony: on Sunday, the band were slated to play atop a float trundling down Broadway.
Later, over coffee, guitarists James Lynch and Mark Orrell reminded me they’d opened for the Pogues in the UK last Christmas. (Stacy took a real shine to the band but MacGowan was a curmudgeon, preferring to hide out in a tent backstage.) They also reminisced about their days as young punks, when they’d attend religiously gigs by the Dropkicks’ original line-up at the Rat and elsewhere. Now celebrating their 10-year anniversary, the band are bigger than ever, and their influence is felt in far-off places. Orrell marveled about a photo sent from a soldier in Baghdad, a defaced Saddam mural with DROPKICK MURPHYS spray-painted across it.
With their dedications to fallen soldiers (“The Fields of Athenry”) and moving tributes to departed friends (“Your Spirit’s Alive”), the Dropkicks’ mammoth home stands seem to take on more emotional resonance every year, raucous fun punctuated with sadness. “No one rips their hearts out like you guys do,” a friend told Lynch recently. Surveying the body-surfing, fist-pumping, soccer-chanting, lighter-waving crowd at Avalon later that night, and the scores of young fans who followed alongside their parade float for blocks in Southie on Sunday afternoon, you could see what he meant, and what this band mean to people.
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