Tin whistler Peter "Spider" Stacy has a saying: "If it ain't on the list, it don't exist."
He used it several times Tuesday night at New York City's Terminal 5, shooting down requests for songs he and his longtime band, thePogues, weren't about to play. "We have to follow the schedule," he said at one point, "otherwise it all goes to pot."
The Pogues attract passionate fans, and every diehard with a plaid cap and three-Guinness buzz has a favorite B-side or obscurity.
The Celtic-punk octet doesn't tour as much as they used to, though, and when they do hit the road -- usually around St. Patrick's Day, which it celebrates Thursday with the last of three consecutive Terminal 5 shows -- there's some obligation to stick with the familiar. When that means songs like 'Streams of Whiskey,' 'If I Should Fall From Grace With God,' 'Tuesday Morning' and the club-wide drunken bleat-along 'Dirty Old Town,' it's not such a bad thing.
While Pogues shows have their share of constants, such as rolling snare beats, briskly strummed acoustic guitar and mandolin, pumping accordion and Stacy's sharp whistle, one question mark tends to be Shane MacGowan. The founding lead singer and songwriter has had his health problems over the years -- many related to his legendary drinking -- but Tuesday night (March 15), as he swilled from a glass of water, he looked healthier and sturdier than he has on recent trips.
MacGowan still mumbles and stumbles, showing wear and tear well beyond his 53 years, but on some level, his diminished capacity adds to the gravity of his lyrics. Pogues songs center on drinking, loving and fighting, and MacGowan has the stooped posture and slurred delivery of a man who's spent several lifetimes doing all three.
Tuesday night, he took body-and-soul ownership of wounded ballads, such as 'A Pair of Brown Eyes,' and hopeful pop songs -- the standout 'The Sunny Side of the Street' -- alike. He danced with Stacy on 'London Girl,' pulling off a nimble backward step, and on 'Irish Rover,' one of the encores, he smashed the wooden chair he'd been sitting in, swinging it with some difficulty but reducing it to splinters all the same.
After 'Fiesta,' the Pogues' tequila shot of a finale, MacGowan said something to the effect of 'F--- you all,' and hobbled offstage. He didn't mean any harm, though. Born surly, he was just doing as Stacy said and keeping to the script.