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AFTER 15 YEARS, POGUES ARE BACK IRISH PUNK GROUP'S HIGH-OCTANE BRAND OF ANGUISH IS WELL WORTH HANGOVER.

Byline: Fred Shuster Music Writer

Raise a pint to Shane MacGowan.

Poet, drunk, heartbreaking balladeer and one-man argument for a good dental plan, the enigmatic front man for the Pogues is a much-mythologized entertainer with a high-risk lifestyle to match his art.

Still, the slurred voice and unkempt appearance can't obscure the romantic beauty in such MacGowan gems as ``Fairytale of New York,'' ``The Broad Majestic Shannon'' and ``Rainy Night in Soho.'' The Pogues, the much-loved Irish outfit that added punk rock to traditional Celtic folk and set the template for such contemporary acts as Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, was a beacon in the synth-drenched '80s music scene.

The pleasure of pain

``I'm just following the Irish tradition of songwriting, the Irish way of life, the human way of life,'' MacGowan, who 25 years ago was given six weeks to live, has said. ``Cram as much pleasure into life, and rail against the pain you have to suffer as a result. Or scream and rant with the pain, and wait for it to be taken away with beautiful pleasure.''

It's a perspective that has resulted in wild, drunken shows, a perennial headlining slot on rock's dead pool, and the all-time classic albums ``Rum, Sodomy and the Lash'' and ``If I Should Fall From Grace With God.''

Music and myth have helped make the Pogues' three dates this week at the Wiltern among the most-anticipated -- and unexpected -- gigs of the year. The concerts mark the first time in more than 15 years that the Irish band's almost-original eight-member lineup has performed in L.A.

``I didn't hold out much hope,'' mused Pogues accordionist James Fearnley, who relocated to L.A. from London in 1989, before the band disintegrated and MacGowan descended into a lifestyle that might give Keith Richards pause. ``It can be very touch-and-go working with someone like Shane. It can all change daily.''

Permanently uninvited

The Pogues last played Los Angeles in 1991. MacGowan had been given the sack and the Clash's late Joe Strummer was filling in. It wasn't a Chieftains crowd that turned up that night. Fearnley says the group was banned for life from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium as a result of the bacchanal that followed.

Dispatches from the road in the past week confirm MacGowan can forget about being offered the roles George Clooney turns down. Bloated, ashen-faced and nearly toothless, the singer's appearance will be familiar to anyone who sat through ``If I Should Fall From Grace,'' the sometimes horrifying, blarney-free 2001 documentary on MacGowan.

At San Francisco's sold-out Fillmore Auditorium a few nights ago, Guinness was in full flow as the Pogues delivered two hours of loud, punky reels and jigs and the audience reveled in response.

But the ballads, including ``Fairytale of New York,'' a rare Christmas song that sounds great any time of year (and the only one with such lines as ``You're a bum, you're a punk, you're an old slut on junk'') were reportedly well worth the hangover.

MacGowan's voice, the Mercury News reported, ``actually seemed to improve as the night progressed, and there were moments when -- I kid you not -- we could actually understand full verses.''

That won't be a problem in L.A. The audience will be singing along with every word.

Fred Shuster, (818) 713-3676

fred.shuster(at)dailynews.com

THE POGUES

Where: Wiltern, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

Tickets: $50 to $65. (213) 480-3232; ticketmaster.com.

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Photo:

(color) The Pogues will play Wednesday through Friday at the Wiltern. In 1991, the last time they played L.A., front man Shane MacGowan had been sacked and replaced. ``It can be very touch-and-go working with ... Shane,'' says one bandmate.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 15, 2006
Words:625
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