Publication: The Boston Globe
Date Printed: Saturday, March 12, 1994
Section: Living
Page: 61
By: Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff
''Havin' a good time tonight?'' asked singer-tin whistle player Spider Stacy from the Orpheum stage last night. The crowd of 2,100 answered the dumb question affirmatively, en masse. ''We have to ask that,'' added Stacy. ''It's in the manual.''

The Pogues, the Celtic/punk-plus band from London, are no fools and they won't play you for a fool, either. Nothing they do resembles a Rock Show. There are no patronizing games to play. But they did ask you to gamble on an unproven quantity: As with Genesis after Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd after Roger Waters, the Pogues are carrying on following the departure of their lead singer-main songwriter, in this case Shane MacGowan.

But what seemed like a shaky premise has turned into very good news -- at least in concert. The premise was that the Pogues could oust MacGowan because of his drinking and less-than-inspired work ethic, and continue on with Stacy assuming the lead singer position. (There was an interim period where ex-Clash singer Joe Strummer filled in on tour.) On the Pogues first post-MacGowan album, ''Waiting For Herb,'' Stacy sounds tentative, timid, his voice smooth and cushy. While there are some standout melodies, there's little of the old bark and ferocity.

There was bark and ferocity last night during the septet's 85-minute rip- snorter of a set. There was more, too, of course -- lilting melodies, a certain bittersweet poignancy, and near the end with the soulful, sax-driven ''Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah,'' a feeling of triumph. Truth be told, Stacy's vocals were a lot stronger than MacGowan's during his last, lackadaisical period with the band, and Stacy seemed much more at ease than Strummer. The Pogues will certainly miss MacGowan's songwriting -- MacGowan has an album scheduled for September; three Pogues play on it, and, reportedly, it is a return to early form -- but in concert last night there was nothing awkward about how it fit together. Stacy brought authority to songs such as the opening ''Sunny Side of the Street,'' ''Once Upon a Time,'' ''Sitting On Top of the World'' and ''Sally Malennane.''

Some bands like to create the illusion of a party. The Pogues say: The hell with the illusion, here's the party, and, by the way, it's continuing later back at their hotel, if you'd care to join us. This, essentially, is what Stacy told the crowd, even giving the hotel name.

During the last few years, the songwriting and singing chores have been spread among various band members, so, in a sense, the Pogues were prepared for MacGowan's exit. Guitarist Philip Chevron sang a lilting ''Thousands Are Sailing'' (about the Irish in the United States) and an angry ''Young Ned of the Hill'' (about the British ''raping'' Ireland, with its ''May you burn in hell tonight!'' kicker). Drummer Andrew Ranken came forward for a good howl at the end on ''Star of County Down''; bassist Daryl Hunt took a couple of vocal turns.

James Fearnley and Terry Woods have exited the band; accordionist-whistle player James McNally and mandolin player/fiddler David Coulter filled in without a hitch. Their lead lines, often mixed with Jem Finer's banjo, darted and dashed about all night, as the players delivered a series of stirring mini-jolts. The Pogues again wrested some sort of desperate pleasure out of hard-edged material. 

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