Twenty-two years later, the Pogues' crispest vignettes ("Thousands Are Sailing," "Fairytale of New York") remain modern songwriting masterworks. Unfortunately, front man Shane MacGowan's legendary excesses steal most spotlights. "Our alcohol consumption will always be a part of our history, but I suppose we just have a less dramatic view of it than other people might have," says guitarist Philip Chevron, who was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2007.
Absent Austin two decades, the Pogues perform Wednesday at Stubb's.
American-Statesman: What's the status of your cancer recovery?
Philip Chevron:As far as I can tell, it's gone. Thanks for asking. Certainly it's gone for the time being, and hopefully for the foreseeable future. The chemotherapy and radiation I had two years ago obviously worked. I'm pretty much back to normal health.
Has it affected you as a performer?
No, not since we got rid of the nuclear plant onstage (laughs). My voice is about as good or as bad as it's ever been. I did actually go deaf for a while, which was a result of the chemotherapy.
You'd been remastering the Pogues catalog before your diagnosis. How necessary was that?
Well, you realize that when "Rum, Sodomy and (the) Lash" came out on CD in 1985, compact discs were in their infancy. The hype was that CDs sound brilliant. They said you can put them in the toaster and put butter and jelly on them and they'd still play. The reality is that most early CDs were pitifully mastered. They sound tinny and hollow.
How did the songs themselves stand up as you listened to them again?We have discovered that the songs have their own long-term organic life. They remain really interesting to play; I suppose because we're different people. We're older and hopefully wiser. A huge portion of the material stands the test of time.
As a band, how are you standing against that test? Is the dynamic good today?
It's pretty good, actually. This lineup, which we consider the classic eight-piece Pogues lineup from the "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" album, is now together twice as long as it was the first time around. That crept up on us without us even noticing. When we did this the first time around, it was inherently self-destructive because of the nature of the touring and what you have to keep the tour-album-tour-album circus going. Also, several of the members of the band have considerably different lifestyles.
Right. You're 15 years sober. Does that make it frustrating to work with Shane?
It doesn't matter in the slightest. All that matters to me is that I stay sober. Shane's responsible for himself, and it's not the least bit offputting or intimidating. Why would it be? He's still the same Shane that I've always known and loved, and it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference that we've gone on different lifestyle paths.
At least that path finally has led back to Austin.
Yeah, it's been 20 years, I think, since we last played in Austin. We're looking forward to it. Last time, they had to take a side of the venue off because it was so swelteringly hot. Even with one whole wall of the venue removed, it was still the hottest gig we'd ever played. We almost fainted after.