Those looking for a shot of spirit for a holiday less than two weeks away would be advised to take a few minutes. It'll serve you well to see this version of a classic that a collection of musicians -- including Iron & Wine, Calexico, Glen Hansard and Kathleen Edwards -- so beautifully performed on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" on Wednesday.
"Fairytale of New York," a story of bitter love and hate circa 1987 by the Irish band the Pogues, is set in a jail, and features broken promises, singing drunks, words thrown like stones such as "You maggot," the NYPD Choir singing "Galway Bay" and various snapshot memories of a debauched, yet somehow undying, love.
It originally starred singer Shane MacGowan and vocalist Kirsty MacColl as tortured lovers -- a junkie and a drunk, if their insults are to be believed -- suffering through the season and recounting their love affair.
As resurrected on Fallon, the huge band captured the song's glory, especially in the way the arrangement -- starring Calexico's excellent Mariachi horn players -- transformed the bile and hatred into something sweet and loving.
"You're a bum, you're a punk," offered Canadian singer Edwards while the band rolled along in a waltz. Iron & Wine's Sam Beam, playing MacGowan's part, replied with an unprintable insult, describing his drug-addicted lover "living there almost dead/On a drip in that bed."
Whew. Where's the holiday spirit in that? It comes in the key last verse.
"I could have been someone," mourns Beam.
"Well so could anyone," shoots back Edwards dismissively. They argue more, but at the end, as the band hits one of many climaxes, the pair join with Hansard (on mandolin) and Calexico's Joey Burns and to harmonize: "Can't make it all alone/I've built my dreams around you."
Codependent? Perhaps -- but joyous nonetheless.
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