Pogues' lead singer delivers a bumpy night

Publication: Chicago Sun-Times

Author: Dave Hoekstra

Date: March 6, 2008

Reviewed gig: Chicago, IL, Riviera Theatre March 5, 2008

Original Location: Link

The Pogues' reunion tour with lead singer-raconteur Shane MacGowan rolled into the Riviera Theatre on Wednesday night like a drive through Chicago potholes.

The band didn't hit the stage until 9:40 p.m. because MacGowan was missing in action, according to several sources.

After countless versions of the Clash's "Magnificent Seven" on the pre-concert mix, MacGowan finally wandered on stage in a black top hat, black overcoat and cuffed jeans. He wore sunglasses. It appeared MacGowan had been drinking.

He looked like the late Ken Kesey from the Merry Pranksters.

Slurring his words, MacGowan pulled up his pants and launched into what sounded like "Bright Lights." I could be wrong. Next up was a slightly more coherent version of the Pogues' classic punk ballad "If I Should Fall From the Grace of God."

Such inconsistency is a twisted legacy of the Pogues, the punk godfathers to present-day bands such as the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Mollys. The band's meshing of Irish folk music, traditional jigs and intense rock is still unique. But by the time MacGowan coalesced with the band on "Sunny Side of the Street," the show was half over. And I had to leave because of deadline obligations.

The Pogues return to the Riviera tonight, and perhaps tonight's audience will be more fortunate.

The other seven Pogues performed with integrity and depth. Band founder and tin whistle player Peter "Spider" Stacy stepped in for sweet lead vocals on the band's 1993 pop hit "Tuesday Morning." Stacy was the band's lead singer between 1991 and 2001, when MacGowan was apparently doing more serious damage than on Wednesday night. Accordion player James Fearnley offered extended rock solos while twirling behind a restless MacGowan.

I felt the most empathy for guitarist Phillip Chevron, who had been battling throat cancer for most of the band's 2006 American tour that did not come to Chicago. Chevron can eloquently draw from country, punk and Middle Eastern idioms, and surely he didn't sign up for most of Wednesday's train wreck at the Riviera.

Ironically, Chevron was out with a bleeding ulcer the last time I saw the Pogues with MacGowan, which was around 1987 at the Vic Theater. At that show, he was replaced by Joe Strummer of the Clash. At that time, the guttural pairing of Strummer and MacGowan made sense.

Strummer has since died while in search of a higher calling. MacGowan apparently still finds his muse in the depths of despair.

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