May 172024
bruce springsteen rainy night

Bruce Springsteen has been vocal about his awe in the face of Shane MacGowan’s poetry and lyrics. He visited the ailing star last year, and sent a note of condolence on his passing. For his two concerts in the Republic of Ireland since that date, he performed a classic from the Poguetry in Motion EP, “A Rainy Night in Soho”—first in Kilkenny to open the set, again in Cork last night to close it. Nick Cave sang it at McGowan’s funeral and the song has become an anthem to a fallen soul.

London’s Soho, like its similarly named New York cousin, is gentrifying now, but it was for many years a haven for the creatives and demi-monde of London. In the ’60s and ’70s you could hear new folk, jazz and other music and drink with (or fight with, in the case of John Martyn) them in late-night drinking establishments. Professional drinkers also had their own venues, and London’s sex trade also made a home there. A song to celebrate the neighborhood has to encompass how keenly its denizens love the place, and why they do. Despite the clear admonition in the song that we will divine its meaning, and MacGowan’s unwillingness to explain, people have read their own stories into the lyrics over the years. Is it a tribute to Shanne Bradley, MacGowan’s bandmate and lover or is it just an ode to drink itself? Both of these are easy to fall in love with but one can be a difficult partner. The ‘ginger lady by the bed’ is an Irish national drink, but what about the rest? The Pogues’ original is delicate and lyrical, and MacGowan’s voice perfectly matches the touching subject.

The Boss is true to the tone and disposition of the tune, as he gently intones a song he has not performed live before. He feels the emotion of the song, and the moment. The crowd in Kilkenny help him along, as they quickly recognise the work of their greatest recent poet. The E Street Band join in but it is clear that everyone present is lost in a moment of tribute to a great loss they feel keenly.

Watch both versions below:

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  3 Responses to “Bruce Springsteen Pays Tribute to Shane MacGowan in Ireland—Twice”

Comments (3)
  1. Nick Drake singing it at Shane’s funeral is a miracle in and of itself.

  2. “Nick Drake sang it at McGowan’s funeral” I think you mean Nick Cave.
    Nick Drake might have sung it directly to Shane but we weren’t there to witness it…

  3. My slip, apologies. We have now corrected it, but the commenters were right to point it out.

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