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POP MUSIC / THOMAS K. ARNOLD : Pogues Stir Up Discontent Without Their Lead Singer

Gee, it was sure nice to see the Pogues last Wednesday night at the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park, opening for Bob Dylan. It would have been even nicer had lead singer Shane MacGowan been there, too.

But the London-based Irish pub band walked on stage without MacGowan and stumbled through an awkward 30-minute set, prompting one disgruntled fan to remark, “Seeing the Pogues without Shane MacGowan is like seeing the Doors without Jim Morrison.”

That analogy might be a little hyperbolic, but it is true that MacGowan is not just the Pogues’ lead singer, he’s a flamboyant front man and writer of most of the band’s material, an infectious blend of traditional Celtic pub music and ferocious punk rock.

And, since the group had known for at least a week that MacGowan wouldn’t be there--he fell ill on the eve of their U.S. tour and remained at home while his compadres flew to the States--the proper thing to do would have been to either postpone the date or at least alert the fans.

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Or the promoter, for that matter. John Nelson of Bill Silva Presents was as unaware of MacGowan’s impending absence as anyone else, and, when he did find out, it was only a few hours before show time.

“When I didn’t see (MacGowan) after the sound check, I walked up to the tour manager and said, ‘Aren’t you missing a band member?’ ” Nelson recalled. “He said, ‘Oh, yeah, Shane’s been ill; he just got out of the hospital, and we think he’ll be rejoining us next week.’

“I asked him why he didn’t let us know in advance, and he just said, ‘Um, I don’t know.’ And I told him that, while it was too late to do anything now, I was very disappointed in the band’s failure to communicate with us. It wasn’t fair to us, and it certainly wasn’t fair to the fans.”

The sixth annual “New Sounds of the Sixties” benefit concert for San Diego State University’s financially strapped student radio station, KCR, will be held Saturday at Montezuma Hall, on the SDSU campus.

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The 12-hour concert, which starts at 1 p.m., will showcase nearly 2 dozen underground rock bands from around the country “that have been influenced in some way, shape, or form by the music of the 1960s--new, original-music bands whose sound at one point might have been classified as Mod, or surf, or garage or psychedelic, but has since mutated into other things,” according to organizer Bartley Mendoza.

The 27-year-old Mendoza’s goal: to raise enough money through ticket sales to cover KCR’s operating costs for yet another year. KCR, which is broadcast throughout the SDSU campus at 550 AM and elsewhere in the city at 98.9 FM on Cox Cable and 96.5 FM on Southwestern Cable, has long had problems meeting its expenses, which average about $4,500 a semester. These problems intensified last spring, when SDSU’s Associated Students, KCR’s primary financial benefactor since the station first went on the air in 1969, voted to cut off its funding in a dispute concerning management of the station.

“Unlike commercial radio stations, KCR doesn’t play the hits,” said Mendoza, whose own Mod revival band, Manual Scan, is one of 11 San Diego groups scheduled to perform at Saturday’s benefit concert.

“They play stuff by all sorts of underground bands that are signed to tiny independent labels and whose music is a lot more adventurous, a lot more creative, but, sadly, a lot less commercial than that of the big bands signed to the major labels,” Mendoza said. “And this is our way of returning the favor, of quite literally paying them back.”

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Among the out-of-town performers will be the Funseekers from Minneapolis, Corporate Humour from St. Louis and New Jersey’s Thee Mod Fun. Locals include the Trebles, the Sharkskins and the Towne Criers.

“It’s sort of like Dick Clark’s ‘Cavalcade of Stars,’ ” Mendoza said. “Everyone comes out and does 30 minutes of their best stuff. And, in addition to raising money for KCR, we’re giving some of San Diego’s best original-music bands some badly needed exposure.

“Bands like the Towne Criers are simply incredible, and yet there’s no room for them on the local nightclub scene because they don’t play the Top 40.”

LINER NOTES: Michelob Street Scene ’89 last Saturday night in the Gaslamp Quarter was “successful beyond our wildest expectations,” promoter Rob Hagey reports. Total attendance was 17,500, up from 10,000 at last year’s Street Scene and a good 5,000 more than Hagey had expected. “Having those kinds of numbers shows us that there’s a great need in San Diego for this event,” Hagey said, adding that “next year, we’re looking at expanding it to two days.” Expansion plans, however, are contingent on “getting the city more involved,” Hagey said, ideally through partial subsidization.

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As advertised, the crowd at Street Scene was treated to 5 1/2 hours of continuous live music, from rock, blues and jazz to reggae, Cajun and “world beat,” by 18 acts performing on six stages. But there were also several unadvertised specials. Among them: a surprise appearance by San Diego roots rockers the Beat Farmers, joining fellow locals Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper on stage for a rousing encore rendition of “The King of Sleaze,” a tune off their new “Poor and Famous” album, co-written by Nixon and Beat Farmer Country Dick Montana; and Bad English, the hot new rock ‘n’ roll supergroup consisting of former members of the Babys and Journey, plowing through the crowd in a car for a grand stage entrance that was captured on film for their upcoming video, “Smile.”

On tonight’s episode of “Celebrity Grill,” a weekly interview program on North County news/talk radio station KVSD-AM (1000) that airs Wednesdays from 8:30-10 p.m., host Les Burden Jr. will be grilling the wives of two local rock celebrities--Mrs. Mojo Nixon and Mrs. Country Dick Montana. Should be interesting, since Country Dick claims he isn’t married. Tune in, however, and you’ll hear a woman by the name of “Anita Dick Montana” beg to differ, promises Mrs. Nixon, nee Adaire Newman: “She’s going to tell all, about the kids and everything.”

Tickets go on sale Friday at 3 p.m. for David Byrne’s Oct. 15 show at Starlight Bowl. Byrne has taken a temporary leave of absence from the Talking Heads to tour the country on his own to promote his upcoming solo album of Caribbean music, “Rei Momo.”

Best concert bets for the coming week: Meatloaf, tonight at Iguanas in Tijuana; the Jeff Healey Band, Thursday at the Bacchanal in Kearny Mesa; Tower of Power, also Thursday, at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach; Bobby (Blue) Bland, Friday at the Bacchanal; Johnny Winter, Saturday, also at the Bacchanal; Dwight Yoakam and the Desert Rose Band, Sunday, at the Starlight Bowl; and Buddy Guy, also Sunday, at the Bacchanal.

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