The Pogues: Traditional Irish Punk

The Pogues
The Warfield
San Francisco, CA
October 13, 2009

The Pogues: Traditional Irish Punk

Senior Irish Punk Correspondent: Brian Griset

In 1982, Shane MacGowan recruited some friends to explore a new type of music - traditional Irish music, mixed with elements of punk and thus the Pogues were formed. The Pogues have a very unique and easily identifiable sound, pairing traditional instruments like the tin whistle and mandolin with electric guitar. The music sounds ready-made for a night at an Irish pub; it’s no surprise that MacGowan, like a good Irish lad, has had drinking problems in the past. In fact, for a short period, MacGowan was replaced by the legendary Clash frontman, Joe Strummer. The Pogues helped recreate and reintroduce traditional Irish music with storytelling lyrics to a new generation. When the Pogues graced the Warfield in SF with a show, Shane and the crew proved they still got what it takes to entertain.

The current members of the band are Irish and English, proving music crosses all borders. Shane MacGowan is joined by James Fearnley, Spider Stacy, Jeremy 'Jem' Finer, Andrew Ranken, Phil Chevron, Terry Woods, and Darryl Hunt. The group had disbanded in 1996 but reconciled in 2001 and now tour periodically in the US.

Although MacGowan looked bored and unengaged during some of the songs, he and the boys played on…fun and goodwill overshadowed the kiss my ass (póg mo thóin) attitude for those of us in the dance pit which was replete with lots of foot-stomping, clapping and pogo dancing. When the band returned for its second encore, they played a double whammy of “Poor Paddy” and the crowd-pleaser, “Fiesta,” during which Spider Stacy repeatedly hammered himself over the head with a metal tray as percussive accompaniment. You're always in for surprises at a Pogues show.

One of my favorite bands, DeVotchKa, opened for the Pogues. Devotchka is an ensemble which fuses Romani, Greek, Slavic, Bolero and Mariachi with post punk and folk. Their name is derived from the Russian word for young girl or girlfriend. This is the second time that I have had the pleasure of hearing Devotchka.

Based in Denver, the quartet is made up of Nick Urata, who sings and plays guitar, bouzouki, piano, and trumpet; Tom Hagerman, who plays violin, accordion, and piano; Jeanie Schroder, who sings and plays sousaphone and double bass; and Shawn King, who plays percussion and trumpet. Together their sound is an aural spectacle and they are visually intriguing as well. Their sound stirs, captivates and is soulfully stimulating and visually their look is Elvis Costello goes to Russia.

In a recent interview Urata states, “I feel very privileged to connect with total strangers through music, it illuminates the idea that we are all connected and basically we are all in this together. If we can lift some spirits or stimulate some romantic activity, then our existence is briefly justifiable.”

The two bands were a great combination, both added punk elements to traditional music for a great effect, and the concert was great fun too!