Pogues Carry On at Warfield
There was a note taped to the window of the Warfield box office on Monday before the first of two concerts by the Irish folk-rock band the Pogues. The show's producers were offering a refund to any ticket-holder who was upset with a personnel change in the Pogues' line-up. It had to be a pretty drastic personnel change to necessitate that kind of measure, but that's what happens when your crazed, self- destructing lead singer can't make the big American tour.
Shane MacGowan, the band's chief architect, primary songwriter and lead singer, is reportedly hospitalized back in the U.K., victim of an undisclosed ailment that was rumored to be everything from nervous exhaustion to liver failure. So how many people asked for their money back? Not many, since MacGowan's replacement was none other than Joe Strummer, that noted folk and blues enthusiast best known as lead singer of the Clash.
STRUMMER'S OWN THING
As a concert, Monday's show was a little unfocused, with the band relying on the gruff-voiced Strummer to take the lead on many of MacGowan's earthy, rollicking songs. Obviously, something special was missing, but Strummer brought his own thing to the proceedings, filling the gaps with four numbers identified with the Clash.
As a party with an Irish lilt, it was a blast, particularly when the seven remaining Pogues lashed into jigs, reels and chanteys influenced by traditional music from the ''auld sod.'' With MacGowan's legendary propensity for the sauce as an inspiration, many in the near-full house paid tribute to their absent hero by getting liquored up and lathered.
''You mighta heard that your man is ill,'' Strummer said as he ambled onto stage with the band. ''I'm just keeping his seat warm,'' he assured the throng before commencing the set with the raucous, full-bore instrumental ''If I Fall From the Grace of God.''
BOBBING AND BOUNCING
In 90 minutes, the Pogues tore through various songs in the band's canon while the gang on the dance floor bobbed and bounced to exhaustion. Everybody in the band did his part to make up for MacGowan's absence. Spider Stacy, penny-whistle whiz, sang a few numbers, including a country-ish ''Johnny Come Lately'' and the raucous, near-Motown set-closer, ''Yeah Yeah Yeah.'' Guitarist Philip Chevron sang his composition ''Thousands Are Sailing,'' enhanced by a mandolin coda by Terry Woods. While bass-player Darryl Hunt handled the drums, drummer Andrew Ranken came up front to sing a romantic folk ballad.
Strummer was most at home with three tracks from ''Hell's Ditch'' -- the most recent Pogues LP, which he produced for the band in 1990. ''Sayonara,'' a nomadic Westerner's bittersweet erotic memory of the Orient, spotlighted Stacy's delirious penny-whistle technique. The happy, poppy number ''The Sunnier Side of the Street'' was an exhilarating testament to personal redemption, co-written by MacGowan and Pogues banjo-player Jem Finer. ''Rain Street'' was a rockin' two-step, with an instrumental duel between Stacy's whistle and James Fearnley's accordion leavening MacGowan's bleary- eyed view of life in the grubby mean streets of the city.
A cover of ''Dirty Old Town,'' written by Irish folk legend Ewan MacColl, continued the poignant urban theme, with Strummer wringing it for all its worth. Although Strummer filled in for MacGowan in admirable fashion, he was most effective on the Clash staples grafted to the set list in his honor. ''London Calling'' replaced the yowling guitar solo of the Clash's version with an accordion break. The Pogues' interpretation of ''Straight to Hell'' improved on the original with spooky, ethereal instrumentation that enhanced the song's evocation of a slow, military funeral march.
The encore featured Sonny Curtis' ''I Fought the Law'' and the Clash's ''Brand New Cadillac,'' familiar fare for Strummer.
They are currently between record deals and their leader is who-knows- where, but the Pogues endure. Their stomping, pinwheeling Tex-Mex number ''Fiesta'' and the traditional Irish vibe of ''Turkish Song of the Damned'' sent the audience into a thrashing delirium on Monday night.
The San Francisco Chronicle
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