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Reelin' and a-Rockin'--Shane Style : Pop music review: Former Pogue's House of Blues concert reveals little of the drama and humor of his current solo album.

August 24, 1995|RICHARD CROMELIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Give him some coffee! . . . Wake him up!" came the shouts from the crowd as the wait for Shane MacGowan's show dragged on at the House of Blues on Wednesday.

When the Irish singer finally took the stage--making his first solo appearance here after leaving the legendary punk-folk band the Pogues in 1991--he didn't do anything to dispel his image as rock's hardest-drinking snaggletoothed genius.

Giving new meaning to the term Irish reels , the beer-bottle-wielding MacGowan slurred his between-song remarks, uttered crude jokes and repeatedly tipped the mike stand forward and watched it fall into the audience. When he left the stage for a break during a long instrumental by his band, he went the wrong way and had to be directed to the proper exit.

That's too bad, because MacGowan is much more than a sideshow freak to be propped up for the amusement of people who get their kicks from watching self-destruction and the squandering of great gifts.

As he demonstrated during the Pogues era and now on his solo debut album, "The Snake," MacGowan can be a dazzling songwriter, channeling his unruliness into rambunctious tales of drinking, sporting, drinking, fighting and drinking. On the album he also does a few traditional songs about drinking and fighting the English, coming on like the seedy, scrappy spawn of the Clancy Brothers and punk rock.

With its cinematic, folk- noir narratives, lacerating self-examinations and contemplations on the spirit and the flesh, "The Snake" has levels of drama and humor that seemed beyond the grasp of the bleary figure on stage Wednesday.

Of course, when you make an album you can capture the moments of lucidity and discard the rest. Live, you get it all. MacGowan's admirably stalwart band fiddled and pumped and piped up a fine storm of traditionally rooted music, but with their leader's shaky hand on the helm, the show flitted between incoherence and illumination.

There's an engaging naturalism in his exaggerated intonation, but these days his ragged, tattered voice tends to degenerate into a strained whisper.

Still, he was often able to give it some body and lock tenaciously onto a story line. He even found the footing now and then to skip gracefully through the shifting holes in the instrumental backdrop.

MacGowan relied largely on familiar Pogues favorites, avoiding the challenge of bringing his new material into the center of the ring. He might find his musical treasures in the bottom of a glass, but he doesn't seem to be discovering any courage there.

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