The Pogues deliver an unsteady show in their return to O.C.

Publication: The Orange County Register

Author: Shawn Price

Date: October 29, 2007

Reviewed gig: Anaheim, House of Blues; October 28, 2007

Original Location: Link

The Irish band performs a meandering set behind Shane MacGowan's indecipherable vocals.

It might still be a miracle. And the thought is not lost on the audience members who pay their money, enter the hall and knock back their first beer partly anticipating they'll witness a train wreck right in front of them.

Shane MacGowan specifically and the Pogues in general do that to people. Just the idea of their reunion tour over a year ago sparked both joy and skepticism that it would last beyond a few shows. In fact, there were probably a lot of folks who simply assumed MacGowan was dead – long since drunk himself to death, drowned in a Celtic cliché.

MacGowan, though not necessarily lucid, was still staggering about. But since being kicked from the Pogues shortly after the release of "Hell's Ditch" in 1990, MacGowan rejoining his associates seemed only like wishful thinking.

This is why band arrival on stage Sunday at the Anaheim House of Blues – quite late and minus the large presence of guitarist Phillip Chevron, who left the tour to battle cancer – was greeted with a bit of surprise. Fans sort of looked at each other for a second, acknowledging they should savor this moment because they'll probably never see it again. It was the same reaction at the Wiltern last spring, where the full band put on a stronger, more focused show. And maybe that'swhat we'll never see again.

Was the Anaheim show a disappointment? Yes. A train wreck? Hardly. It only takes the length of a verse or two to be reminded of how good the musicianship still is, how cohesive a sound behind MacGowan's growl, now more unintelligible than ever. MacGowan is a kind of antihero, and if you already know every word, it just didn't matter. We were charmed. Each bit of mush-mouthed jumble between songs was greeted with a cheer, regardless.

The 95-minute, 24-song set, though satisfying, seemed to meander a bit before fizzling out at the end. L.A.'s show featured a wish list of fan favorites. It's impossible to say exactly what effect Chevron's absence or his health status had on the performance, but opening with "Streams of Whiskey" instead of the rousing "If I Should Fall from Grace with God" – which had blown open previous shows – proved the band was steering in another direction. And "Thousands are Sailing" and "Fairytale of New York" were large omissions.

The peculiarities of the Mouse House show served to remind those who saw both stops of this fleeting glimpse just what a great band sounds like when it's bored and restless.

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