Publication: Los Angeles Times 
Date Published: October 12, 1991 
By: Steve Hochman
Section: Calendar, Prt F, Pg. 9, Clm 1

This may sound strange, but for much of the time at the Wiltern Theatre on Thursday, Joe Strummer -- who once fronted the ostensibly punk Clash -- didn't really have the snarl and dangerous edge to front the ostensibly folk Pogues. Filling in for ailing Shane MacGowan, a grippingly charismatic figure, Strummer seemed, well, tame. 

In part, that's because the British-Irish Pogues wield folk instruments and styles with perhaps even more anarchic spark than the Clash wielded rock 'n' roll tools. Reels and jigs and pub songs flew by in whiskey-fueled hyperdrive on Thursday, the first of two Wiltern nights. You'd have to call it a mess if it wasn't so exhilarating. You'd still have to call it a mess.

It whipped the crowd into an impressive frenzy. But it wasn't until after Strummer led the band through the Clash's "London Calling" well into the set that guitarist Philip Chevron stepped forward to sing his aching "Thousands Are Sailing." Then the lyrical and instrumental richness that made the Pogues more than a folk-punk novelty started to unfold.

After that, Strummer seemed to get more into it and the band's spirited camaraderie coalesced, but the former Clashman still never broke out of the guest role, and the band never really found the focus in the past provided by MacGowan, erratic as he could be.

Of course, if Strummer -- who had guested alongside MacGowan on a 1987 Pogues tour -- had asserted himself more, he might have risked turning it into the Joe Strummer Show. But if MacGowan doesn't come back on board (he also missed the band's last stateside jaunt, opening for Bob Dylan in 1989), the Pogues better find someone to anchor the anarchy.

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