Timing may not be everything, but it sure counts for something — as borne out by the decision to circle St. Patrick’s Day when it came time to schedule the New York dates on the brief reunion tour staged by these Irish legends’ original lineup. At this, the first of four sold-out gigs, the band couldn’t entirely hide the ravages of age and indiscretion, but still managed to generate a goodly amount of its old energy — and just about all of its full-throated celebration of life.
At the onset of the perf, it seemed as if the band was primed for a sprint, rather than a marathon, what with the breakneck pacing and spittle-drenched delivery afforded “Streams of Whiskey” and “Turkish Song of the Damned.” And while frontman Shane McGowan did take several trips to the wings — to grab a breather or some form of restorative — the group managed to keep up the pace for the better part of two hours, most of which was filled with their most uptempo material.
McGowan is often unjustly caricatured as nothing more than an irascible drunk who happens to have a flair for tapping into Celtic tradition — an image he did little to dispel by shuffling onto the stage clutching a Costco-sized bottle of whiskey that was clearly more than a prop. Scratch just a bit beneath his grimy surface, however, and it becomes clear that McGowan falls squarely into the Gaelic tradition of smash-mouth bards, capable of cutting to the emotional bone without losing that twinkle in the eye.
That was amply evident in the passel of woozy ballads — like “A Pair of Brown Eyes” and “The Old Main Drag” — that punctuated the perf with a sentimentality that reconciled the ugliness and beauty that coexist in life (and love) on the skids. Whistle-player Jem Finer and cittern player Terry Woods underscored the inherent Irishness of the melodies, but tore into songs like “The Repeal of the Licensing Laws” with a feral glee that’d draw envy from many a Warped Tour whippersnapper.
Encores were chock-a-block with aud favorites — “Fairytale of New York,” with Finer’s daughter Ella tackling the part the late Kirsty MacColl did on record, resonate particularly strongly — as well as rambling stories from McGowan’s quiver. If the latter occasionally went awry due to a combination of denture-less slurring and inebriated cackling, nothing was lost in translation when the music was in full flight.