Category Archives: Ireland

St. Patrick’s Day at the 9:30 Club with the Pogues

Shane MacGowan, still upright on the second of three nights at the 9:30 this week.  Photo by Erica Bruce.

Shane MacGowan, still upright on the second of three nights at the 9:30 this week. Photo by Erica Bruce.

The world’s greatest wedding band, says I. Reviewed for DCist.

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On Stage: Pumpgirl

Madeleine Carr is the titular, tomboyish gas-station attendant in "Pumpgirl."  Photo by Linday Murray -- Solas Nua

Madeleine Carr is the titular, tomboyish gas-station attendant in Pumpgirl. Photo by Linday Murray — Solas Nua.

I previewed the new Solas Nua show, Abbie Spallen’s Pumpgirl, for Post Weekend. Solas Nua is one of the most reliably interesting companies in town. I’ve loved several of their productions, and even the ones I’ve disliked have struck me as honorable, ambitious, interesting failures.

This Song Is Not a Rebel Song; This Song Is “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” 14 Years Later

(And now another dozen years beyond that.)

U2, the oldest (well, longest-standing), sacredest of my sacred cows, will release No Line on the Horizon, their 12th studio album, on March 3, and you’ll be able to spend as much money as you want on the thing. (A pay-what-you-will, just-the-music download edition a la Radiohead would be the decent, tasteful thing for U2 to do — they can easily afford it — but it ain’t gonna happen.)

I’ve long believed U2 to be superstitious about the months in which they drop albums, and their long-awaited latest was originally rumored to be a November release — like 1991’s Achtung Baby, 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind (which actually came out on Halloween, as I recall, which is almost November), and 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

The Joshua Tree, still U2’s most beloved and iconic album despite strong competition from Achtung, was a March release, way back in 1987. But the new record will be U2’s first March record since — gasp! — 1997’s POP.

Am I going to re-open the debate about U2’s most controversial album? Hell, no. (But if you feel like delving into that, you can stop by Carrie Brownstein’s superb Monitor Mix blog, where she recently suggested that POP and the subsequent PopMart Tour — which I saw four times! — might stand as a textbook case of shark-jumpery.) I just hope No Line on the Horizon isn’t an overhyped, undercooked, and yet still ultimately underrated album that we’re all still fighting about in 2021. That seems to have been POP ‘s fate, though it still gets revived and defended in unlikely places by unlikely people. The Imposter, for example. His cover might be the definitive version of “Please.”

That U2 played “Sunday Bloody Sunday” every night on their last two tours after having rendered the 1983 song all but obsolete with “Please” in 1997 is just straight-up pandering, Man. At least play both!

Double Shot of DRUID

DRUID’s kiss-me-quick production of two Synge plays, The Shadow of the Glen and The Playboy of the Western World, reviewed for DCist.

Sonic Doom: Bell X1 at Ram’s Head Onstage


“We don’t know how rock to get,” confessed Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan at Ram’s Head Onstage in Annapolis Saturday night. He was talking about the awkwardness of turning it up to 11 in an all-seated supper club (“We don’t have shows like this back home in Ireland”), but his band has bigger problems: It you haven’t got the songs, then your chops are worth about as much as a Johnny Buckland guitar solo. (I just had to look up the Coldplay guitarist’s name to complete that sentence, so there you have it.)

Bell X1 is what remained of Irish indie-rock outfit Juniper after Damien Rice left for a solo career, so no surprise that Rice is one of the many purveyors of the atmospheric balladry Bell X1 tries very hard to emulate. Their genteel, out-of-focus soft rock — imported to the States when “Eve, the Apple of My Eye,” ha-ha, got picked up by “The O.C.” a few years back — sounds like a diluted Coldplay, itself a soggy imitation of better bands, like that other Irish rock band named after a famous Cold War aircraft. (Give yourselves another point for originality, Bell X1! Maybe that’s why you called your album Flock.) But the biggest flaw of Bell X1’s white-glove sound is that it allows you to hear the lyrics — the one about the angel and the devil playing poker in the Garden of Eden, for example (“I’ll See Your Heart and Raise You Mine”), or the one about how you have the most beautiful face, and we’re all floating in space. Surprisingly, there have been a handful of decent pop songs written about Writer’s Block; Bell X1’s “My Firstborn for a Song” is not among them. Somebody get Glen Ballard on the phone!

No wonder that for most of their 70-minute main set, even the band seemed bored. For Shame: Noonan, the former drummer who inherited lead vocal duties when Rice left, is a capable and charismatic singer. With a good song to sell — the Talking Heads’ “Heaven,” for example, performed during the encore — he’s plenty watchable.

Bell X1 closed with their best shot, “Flame,” which boasts funky “Miss You”-by-way of Scissor Sisters-flavored guitar part and a snaky bassline that immediately hooks you. The buzz lasted all the way until the chorus, when the five grown onstage squinted to sing in unison about how they want to “toast marshmallows on a cold, dark night.”

Honestly. Some bands just won’t help themselves.

Bell X1 play the 9:30 Club with opener Brooke Waggoner on Tuesday, June 3rd. A shorter version of this review appears in today’s Paper of Record.

Hurry Up and Kill Yourself Already: Solas Nua’s Portia Coughlin

linda-murray-as-portia-coughlan.jpg

We know just how she feels: Linda Murray is just asking for chronic back pain in Portia Coughlin.

It’s no fun reviewing a show created by people you like and respect unfavorably. (And there’s a bit of it going ’round lately, seems like.) But this is The Job.

Also on DCist this week, my first Weekly Music Agenda.

Irish Song of the Damned

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A recent-ish (and Shane-less? Is that him, supine in the foreground at left? I can’t tell.) photo of the Pogues.

So. Spent the last two nights at the 9:30 seeing the Pogues for the first and second time. Hardly the debauched evening I might have expected if I’d seen them 20 years ago, but they sounded great.

I was on company time the first show (Paper of Record review here), when I spied Baltimore Sun newsman-turned-Homicide author-turned-creator of The Wire, David Simon, walking up to the VIP balcony. I waited around to try to talk to him after the show, but was told the balcony was closed for a private function.

Simon’s presence at a Pogues show on Sunday evening was ironic because the final episode The Wire had begun airing on HBO about 15 minutes before the Pogues took the stage, and because the Pogues’ music has been featured prominently in several episodes of the billiant HBO series. “Metropolitan” has scored at least one of Det. Jimmy McNulty’s  (Dominc West) adventures in drunk driving, but more to the point, there’s a tradition on the show — one that presumably, given Simon’s insistence on authenticity even in the most minute details, has its origins in the actual practice of the Baltimore Police Department — that when a cop dies, his brothers in arms lay him out on a pool table, eulogize him, and then sing the Pogues’s “The Body of an American” over him.

Sunday night, the Pogues played “Body” 12th in their set of 26 songs, I think. I turned around to try to catch a glimpse of Simon’s face but couldn’t see him just then.

Anyway, Paper of Record pop critic J. Freedom du Lac blogged about my sighting, and The Reliable Source picked it up today.

I still wish I could have spoken to Simon. I’ve got lots of things I’d like to ask him, about journalism and music and filmmaking and The Wire, but if I only had a second I’d thank him for creating what I’m hardly the first to call the most sophisticated and truthful show probably in the history of television. One of the funniest and most moving, too.