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On the Replacements “breakup,” 2015 style


Seattle, and that fucking amazing, genius opening

Everybody wants to know what I think about Paul’s declaration onstage in Portugal that this was the band’s last show. I maintain that I’d like to wait until I hear a full tape or find a full video, or talk to someone at the show who had actually had some kind of history with the band, before descending into gloom and doom and donning sackcloth and ashes. He could mean it; he could have been kidding; he could be half serious.

But right now, it’s one report, tying into another ‘someone close to the band’ report, and everyone’s reposting it like it’s gospel. (What in the ever loving Sam Hill is wrong with all of you? Come on.)

The truth, though, is that I could not see Paul and Tommy wanting to continue all that much longer as a nostalgia act, and I am frankly amazed they lasted as long as they did in that form. There are new songs; there is video footage; this could be a going concern…or Paul could do what he has done for as long as we have known him as a performer and not do any of those things, although now would be the perfect time in which to do all of them (which is generally exactly when he doesn’t do them).

When it comes right down to it, though, this outing was a fucking triumph, plain and simple, down to the very end. They started out strong, and only got better. Some 2015 examples:


Barcelona. Look at how much fun they are clearly having.


Another Girl, Another Planet – I love the look on Dave’s face when Paul starts singing: “Look, he DOES know the words”


DC: Shitty sound, but Paul’s confidence is stunning to watch


Philly, singing their hearts out kind of sums it all up.

Yeah, I ain’t buying it. They’ll be back. Mark my words.

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Two Nights With The Replacements, 2015

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NIGHT ONE: ECHOSTAGE, WASHINGTON, DC, MAY 8, 2015

Takin’ a ride, and its doing no goooood…

I am listening intently to Paul Westerberg belt out that line, letting his voice linger on the last word with some extra oomph. It is something that the other thousand or so audience members crowded into this converted warehouse/now EDM club on the outskirts of washington, DC may not notice, or care to notice; to them, it’s just a kick ass version of “Takin’ A Ride” and it reminds them of their college years or high school times or maybe this is a brand new memory, a memory they never thought they’d get to have, because they weren’t old enough the first time around. But I am here to pay attention, I am here for these extra details, I am here to make up for lost time, for the years I didn’t get to hear these songs sung and played over and over again. I am here because we didn’t get to watch our band grow and change and shift and get old with us in real time. I am also here to sing along at the top of my lungs, to feel what it’s like to recite words you know as well as your old phone number or your Mom’s birthday, to sing them alongside thousands of other people doing the exact same thing, whether for the first time or the 20th time.

As a fan, it is good to be at this point in the Replacements reunion cycle, where the emotional thud in the middle of your chest is still there but is not so all encompassing you get lost, like it was for me in Toronto and then again in St. Paul. Those nights were not dissimilar to walking into the room and seeing the E Street Band together again in 1999 or hearing Patti Smith live again in 1995, that wonder and sheer fucking joy at being in the presence of that unique energy again.

In DC Friday night, Westerberg bounds onstage, full of energy, dancing to “Surfin’ Bird” as the audience screams along to the chorus, “Everybody knows that the bird is the word!!” He steps to the mic with an unguarded, open confidence and comfort that is not his usual modus operandi; it’s what I imagine we might have seen if the Mats hadn’t imploded in 91 or if his solo career had found its mark (and don’t get me wrong, I love those records; the problem was, he needed more than just us to love those records). My compatriot for this run, who has seen five of the previous shows, confirms that this is new, and different.

They start with “Takin’ A Ride,” “Favorite Thing,” “Hospital,” “Kissing In Action” (which is GREAT; I’d love to know why that one in particular got revived, out of all of the possibilities) and “I’m In Trouble” are a straight shot, five songs barrelling full speed ahead, and you think to yourself, man, we’re in for a great one tonight.

Paul asks if we want to hear “Little Mascara” and the answer is a resounding yes, of course we do. And it’s here that he either let go or somehow lost focus, and it’s beautiful to hear the song but the grip is a little looser, either it just happened or he chose to let it go. I think about what it must be like to sing these songs of love and loss and heartache that you wrote so long ago, and what place he is singing them from now, all these years later. The audience is bringing their own personal prisms that they filter the songs through, and I often wonder what Paul’s is. (I also wonder about Springsteen singing lines like, “Mister, I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man, and I believe in the Promised Land,” too, for what it’s worth.)

We veer into Waitress, and then back to Valentine in its lush gorgeousness. Treatment Bound is a good old fashioned singalong up to the rafters. Paul accuses Dave of practicing, before introducing the next song as being about “unrequited marital dischord.” I raise my eyebrows.
“Nobody” starts another strong run bringing the energy and focus back, with “Kiss Me On The Bus,” “Seen Your Video” (my first this reunion), and “I Will Dare.”

Paul announces that his ears have finally popped. This would be the only reference to the two cancelled shows that preceded this one, and caused people to worry if this was the start of the wheels falling off this bus. I was at the venue early enough to hear soundcheck, and was glad it was confined to Dave singing covers (Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me” and half a Led Zep song) and that Paul was saving his voice.

The harmonica comes out for a delightfully gravelly “White and Lazy,” before they slam straight into “Color Me Impressed” and then “I’ll be You,” the latter of which Tommy declares, “That’s the best we played that the whole fucking trip.” But then it’s “Whole Foods Blues,” which I’m sure was hilarious in Portland and probably still funny in LA, but I think the joke is over. “Merry Go Round” is solid, but then Paul takes the mic back to the drum riser, sits down, and drops the mic to his level. Four notes and I hold my breath, the one thing I wanted to hear more than anything else, “Within Your Reach,” which was stunning and ethereal and as magic as it should be. He finishes the vocal, and while still playing, walks to the edge of the stage, smiles broadly, and just as we start to applaud, he mouths that final “REACH”.

Time for the anthems. “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Bastards” are back to back, and with ears ringing and smiles from ear to ear in the crowd, they walk off the stage. They return shortly thereafter, Paul carrying the 12 string, and it seems like he was waiting for Tommy (who was having a sidestage conversation) before he gave up and started playing a song that I didn’t recognize, and then once i realized that it actually felt like a Song, I just hit record. (I know his head is cut off, I was just trying to get the music.)

It was later confirmed to me by People Who Know About These Things that this was, indeed, a new song. I am glad to hear that there are new songs, because I have been wondering how long I will ride on the reunion train if it is just a reunion train, I wonder how many other people will come back again if it’s just an oldies act, and frankly I wonder how long Paul and Tommy independently will want to do just that. I mean, I would go watch Paul read the phone book, but I am hoping that there will be new Westerberg music in some form or fashion, whether he wants to call it the Replacements or not.

The 12 string gets put to good use with “Skyway,” before shifting into the downslope of the set, “Left of the Dial” and one of the best versions of “Alex Chilton” I have ever heard. The energy was on point again, and Paul must’ve been feeling it too, because he came back yet again for “Nevermind,” which was loud and grand and arena-worthy, and would have been a fitting close. But he still wanted to play more, so he kept going into “I.O.U.” and with that, the evening comes to a close.

NIGHT TWO: FESTIVAL PIER, PHILADELPHIA, PA, MAY 9, 2015

We go from a warehouse in Our Nation’s Capitol to a glorified pier on the river in the Cradle of Liberty, a venue that’s basically a parking lot gussied up with some sand and a couple of beer tents. [PLEASE STOP PLAYING SHITTY VENUES, GUYS. PLEASE.] Superchunk played an absolutely meteoric set, the kind of set you play when you’re opening for people that made you want to play music in the first place. And then, there they are again, Paul racing onstage and looking comfortable and ready to play. And while tonight there was plenty of fun and joshing and private jokes, plenty of Replacements-esque type business, the energy was also strong and consistent and well-paced and it was an incredibly solid set from start to finish.

Josh asked for “I Don’t Know,” and I love the detour into “Buck Hill” mostly because I love the chance to yell BUCK HILL at the right time, before they come crashing back into “I Don’t Know,” and the glorious WOO HOOS. “Tommy Gets His Tonsils” out was back, then “Kissing In Action,” “I’m In Trouble,” boom, boom boom, knocking them out with strength and confidence. Paul starts playing part of “Election Day” and says something like, “You asked for it,” when Tommy makes a face. (Now, that would have been awesome.) Once again he asks if we want to hear “Little Mascara,” Paul singing again with what feels like an extra flourish. “We got that one over with,” Tommy gripes into the microphone.

Paul asks what we want to hear, and is met with the usual barrage of requests (the one I hear more than anything is “Unsatisfied.” It’s a little early in the set for that, I think) and then he points at Daryl in the front row and says, “You’ve been asking for this one for three days in a row, we don’t know it, we might get to it later…’Hold My Life’ with the 7 ½ bar change?” He gestures at Tommy. “Fuck it, we’ll try it!” Now, he’s a little bit of a liar there, because it had been soundchecked at a previous show, but who cares, because they played the fuck out of that song and he played the fuck out of the guitar on that song (as well as most of the night, to be honest). It was one of those nights you watched Paul Westerberg play guitar and shook your head in awe and regret and wonder and hope.

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“Valentine” soars up to the stars, and then “Nobody” followed by “Kiss Me On The Bus,” which was punctuated with Paul kissing Tommy on the ear with gusto. “Okay, ‘Androgynous’ or ‘Seen Your Video’?” Paul asked next. The crowd seemed to be firmly on the side of “Seen Your Video” over on my side of the stage, but Paul obviously heard differently. “What? Both at the same time? No problem at all whatsoever.” With that, Tommy and Josh began to play “Seen Your Video” while Paul and Dave launched into “Androgynous.” You might think that this would not work, and under conventional definitions of “work” you might be right, but there was really nothing more thoroughly Replacements than those glorious moments of noise and chaos, as all four of them made their way through about a minute and a half of the combination before dropping the effort in laughter and going back to “Seen Your Video.”

The loudest, grandest singalong to “I Will Dare” rose as high as the Ben Franklin Bridge. “Wake Up” into “Borstal Breakout” was solid as heck. The mic stand went back to the drum riser again for yet another heart-rending, delicate, hold-your-breath “Within Your Reach,” with another deliberate journey to the front of the stage, mic stand in hand, to give us that final “REACH.”

And then we’re launched into the anthems once again, “Can’t Hardly Wait” joyful and bouncy, people hugging each other and their friends and their kids, everyone screaming along with Paul at the intro to “Bastards,” beautifully skirting yet again into “My Boy Lollipop,” and back, and just when you thought your heart could not grow any larger in your chest, “Nevermind” as the perfect ending, wistful and triumphant at the same time, the Westerberg double-whammy at its best.

They came charging back out for “Left of the Dial” and “Alex Chilton,” making everyone happy, letting us sing along together, these songs that are so big and meant so much, that despite their author’s absence have grown and become something else, possibly even something other than what they were when they were first written. Friday night, I listened to a young kid explain to his friends what “Left of the Dial” meant; he noted that he was 12 in 1991, while his friend was 6, and yet the fact that the left of the dial is not what it once was doesn’t seem to matter, it is still a song about longing and desire and wishes and what ifs. A song about Alex Chilton was cool in 1986 and was a tribal rallying cry for those who agreed that you should never travel far without…etc. etc., and while it’s still cool in 2015, it’s now monument and tribute and farewell and a beautiful capsule of so many things, what we meant, what we believed in, what we hoped for.

And then the 12-string is on and without any ado, the reward: “Unsatisfied” shouting into the night sky, heartfelt and broken and gorgeous and heart-rending as ever, as always. They waved goodbye, and headed off, one by one, leaving us wanting more, wanting to know what’s next, and when we’ll see them again.

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Concert Review: The Replacements, West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills, Queens, 9-19-14

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For my second Replacements show in a week, tonight we are in Queens, the borough that gave us the Ramones and Johnny Thunders and countless others (as we were reminded by Craig Finn, in another kick-ass set from the Hold Steady that was even better than Minneapolis). We are also standing on an old tennis court, former home of the US Open, that also once upon a time hosted concerts by Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and the Beatles.

The lights go down, the crowd roars, and what comes out of the PA? “Jet Song” from West Side Story. “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day…” One can only assume that this was inspired by the fact that the proper name of the venue is the West Side Tennis Club (although there is nothing at all gritty and urban about this particular locale, which hates outsiders so much it privatized its streets, and has imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on concerts held here).

Paul bounds onstage again, dressed in an outfit I can only describe as “renegade elf”. He is wearing a multi-colored jacket over a bowling shirt, atop red corduroys he has cut off just below the knees. This is so we can see his lovely striped socks (prompting a guy behind us to yell, more than once, I WANT YOUR SOCKS). Tommy, on the other hand, has another dapper plaid suit worn over a black shirt and red tie which to me says JOHNNY THUNDERS in capital letters. (I realize I may be projecting.)

They charge into “Favorite Thing” and the energy is immediately, markedly different than Minnesota. “Takin’ A Ride” and “I’m In Trouble” see your bet, and raise it. “It’s an absolute pleasure to be here,” Paul says, glancing up at us. Unlike last week, you can see his eyes, because they are venturing to look out past the edge of the stage.

Last Saturday they felt like a coiled spring, taut, holding back, driving power just on the edge of exploding into chaos; today they are powerful, driving, muscular–it is a looser energy. Freese is on, but the dude is always on, and Minehan is his usual whirling-dervish-Muppet self over on stage left. It feels more relaxed, more open, less contained. Paul is the fulcrum, and he just seems less nervous, and more confident. This bodes well.

Tommy takes one look at Paul during “I’ll Be You,” as he gets to the “dressing sharp” line and starts laughing. “A vocal crowd for that one,” Paul notes afterwards, and he was right–it was very loud all night, and the band seemed visibly moved by this, over and over again. I wasn’t in Boston, and it was hard to tell in St. Paul (although everyone around me was singing), and it’s almost unfair to compare them, because Forest Hills is a concrete bowl and there is amplification and echo involved. (That said, my friends in the stands complained about the nonstop talking up there, and the videos I have seem from up top support this.)

“Valentine” is lush, and gorgeous, and so precise, those beautiful guitar licks. It was the example I gave earlier in the day when I was telling friends that I was not going to arrive with the chickens and was just going to walk into the venue like a normal person at a normal time, but that I was not going to stand at the back where some idiot could talk through “Valentine” and I would have to risk arrest for my reaction to that. It remains amusing to me that the fans are still so split; the tiny girl behind me jumping up and down to “I’m In Trouble” has no use for “Valentine,” and I feel bad for her.

The setlist is largely the same–it is the same songs but it is not the same performance, and it is not just because I don’t have some moron jumping into my back all night long. The band is playing like a well-oiled machine, and watching the show tonight is like watching when your favorite outfielder makes that impossible catch with what seems like zero visible effort. This is the only other headlining show of the reunion, and they are in front of different friends and music biz honchos and every rock writer you know is here. There is still a lot on the line, but in a different way than it was at Midway Stadium last weekend.

Paul steps to the mic and says how glad he was that he managed to learn this guitar lick, and–it’s the Jackson Five. It was another great night for Paul Westerberg as a underrated guitar player and his obvious enjoyment at playing a song that he probably watched during Saturday morning cartoons like the rest of us is great fun to see. “Color Me Impressed” has a loud and piercing whistle, which made me just a little misty.

Then, Tommy tells us the story of the scar on his nose, which I am not sure you could see even if you were standing in front of him. He explains that he was getting his 7am Amtrak down from Hudson and he tripped over the olde fashioned sidewalks they have up there and fell on his nose, bleeding everywhere. The conductor insists that he has to call an ambulance; he tells him that he has a show to get to. The ambulance comes, they say, you’re bleeding and you’re very pale, you broke your nose. Tommy goes and looks in the mirror and says, well, I’m always very pale, and my nose usually looks like this, I’m fine, I’m going to the show. But he had to get the next train, which was why he was late for soundcheck. This is all prelude to something that they rehearsed but never played–Paul kept shaking Tommy off all night with things like, “No, this one’s better.” (I still don’t know what it was, despite seeing someone with a printed setlist at the end of the night.)

“Nowhere Is My Home” is even more powerful than last week, and this goes straight into “If Only You Were Lonely,” during which some drunk bozo has to be escorted out because he chose this moment to try to crowdsurf. This transition was the first moment where I realized that they were acutely aware of the curfew; Paul was trying to grab a smoke and change guitars at the same time.

I was about to write something like, “I get that they don’t want to play a conventional venue,” but then I realized that I absolutely do not get that. There was nothing particularly Replacements about playing this show here. Rock and roll is not improved one iota by being played outside, and playing at a hard-to-get-to venue with no running water, one way in and out, uncomfortable metal benches and questionable acoustics, when you are playing in a locale that had any number of other suitable venues makes zero sense to me. Maybe there was some cool factor that seemed neat to the band because of the artists who played here in the 60s, but that was the 60s when there weren’t dozens of road tested venues with adequate facilities in this particular metropolitan era. This fucking venue is just awful, and I don’t know why you as a musician would want to play a show with such an early curfew on your back all night if you had a choice.

End rant.

By “Merry-Go-Round” Westerberg is just on total cruise control. He is relaxed, happy, and in total control of his instrument. “Achin’ To Be” just soars into the night sky, and he sings “Androgynous” all the way through because the crowd is eagerly shouting every word along with him.

“That was the best by a country mile,” Paul says. (Two words for you, Boston.)

“Love You Till Friday” has a bit of a syncopation problem with the bass and guitar player. “We got the beat?” Paul asks, looking from side to side. “HE got the beat,” he notes, pointing at Freese. And yes, here is another love letter to Josh Freese, and how he just hits every bit of percussion or syncopation, any Mats purist can play air drums with him all night and never have any point of question or any beat out of order–and yet the man still seems to SWING the entire time, building pockets of air and room. Minehan does the same thing, just with a guitar, whirling and bouncing and swooping in with his guitar to lead or embellish or bolster. It is hard to think of two better foils for Paul and Tommy on this outing.

I had no idea what Paul was going to do when he suddenly lowered the microphone and got down on his knees (thus totally reinforcing the renegade elf classification from earlier) and it was one of those moments where you’re going, “Well, it SOUNDS like ‘All Shook Down’ but I’m pretty sure I am wrong and I am not remembering correctly.” But yes, it was “All Shook Down,” without intro or preface and I wish they would do more of that. There is no end of material in the catalog that would work and that Paul would still feel comfortable singing.

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(This is where I will voice my slight disappointment that given the band’s abilities and obvious expertise that there couldn’t be a little more variation in the setlists. I get the construction of a festival setlist for a festival slot, but I was hoping after the expansion of the St. Paul setlist that New York would get a little more variation. Minehan and Freese could learn anything and improvise on the spot, and Tommy could fake it if he didn’t know it [which I would imagine is the prime skill one needs to be a member of Guns N Roses].)

Tommy kept trying to tell us the rest of the story about the train and his nose, but Paul keeps cutting him off.

”So, like I was saying…”
*GUITAR CHORD*
“Okay, okay!”

Tommy then advocates for whatever it was that they soundchecked and Paul waves it off again, asking us if we want to hear “Swingin’ Party” or– but NEVER TELLS US WHAT OUR OTHER OPTION IS, knowing full well that the crowd will cheer loudly for “Swingin’ Party.”

A roadie ran out and whispered something into Tommy’s ear and he nods, and mentions that the clock is ticking and they’re going to pull the plug in 10 minutes. The crowd boos loudly. “Hey, I don’t make the rules!” Tommy says. “Neither did Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan!”

Now, I know that the Replacements back in the day would have dared them to pull the plug, and I was actually kind of interested to see if they would respect the curfew or say fuck it and keep playing. Although I have been at a large concert event when the plug was pulled and know how that turned out, I was willing to respect either decision.

So they made the best of their time, Paul thanking the crowd after “Love You In The Fall” like it was the end of the set, but wasting no time of crashing into the parade of hits. The audience was so loud during “Can’t Hardly Wait,” they had to hear us in Brooklyn; it was one of the loudest and most intense singalongs I have ever been part of, and Paul, Tommy and Dave kept stepping to the front of the stage to hear more of it, nodding and smiling and looking proud, and wistful too. It was like the goddamn alternative rock national anthem was being sung at that moment, and it was that reminder of how long you have been singing that song and how great that song is, and how important it was, and is, and will always be.

Everyone had a fist in the air for “Bastards of Young,” even the people up in the stands (who were on their feet for most of the evening, at least from what I could see, even up at the top) and it was triumphant and raucous and full of joy and energy and remembrance. “White and Lazy” kept that going, straight back into “Left of the Dial.” That was the one that got me last week, and Paul Westerberg is a very smart man. I might wish for more variety in the setlist, but he has put together a sequence that is so powerful emotionally I get that he doesn’t want to tinker with it all that much.

“Left of the Dial” channels waves and waves of energy, building and building and building, and Paul feels it too, he rushes back to his amp at the intro to turn it up more, throw some more fuel onto the fire.

Just that moment of standing there at the end, listening or singing or crying (or all of the above):

“And if I don’t see you
For a long, long while
I’ll try to find you
Left of the dial…”

I pound my fist to my heart in tribute and respect and reminiscence.

Everyone knows what has to be next and one more time, “Alex Chilton,” one more time, everyone laughing and crying and cheering and jumping up and down. It has been so long since you heard it live, since you got to sing it next to other people who love this song as much as you do. Even if you never stopped listening to the Replacements, or caring about this music, what was missing was being in the same place with other people who felt the same way about it as you did. The audience tonight was filled with people I know or am on nodding acquaintance with from seeing them at other shows by other bands, and it’s not accidental or surprising that they all converged here tonight.

I was talking to friends and did not notice that he came back with the 12-string electric for “Unsatisfied.” I do not think that I will ever top seeing this one front row center, and it was not in my notes, because there is nothing you can write or say about this one. I am mostly glad that the friends with me, who didn’t get this in Boston, their only other Replacements outing, are getting it tonight. It wasn’t on the setlist, like it wasn’t last week, and it is an obvious reward for a crowd that deserved it.

And then it is over, and they are running off, except Paul comes back, and waves, and starts throwing things into the crowd, wristbands and I think maybe a capo? He didn’t want to leave, and didn’t want to stop. Tonight it seemed like Paul Westerberg was finally ready to accept the musical legacy he has created, and was willing to visibly enjoy it. And all I can say is, about fucking time.

The only question I have is: What’s next, Paul? What’s next?

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Concert Review: The Replacements, Midway Stadium, St. Paul, Minnesota, 9-13-2014

I stood front row center on the rail for the Replacements in Minnesota, and after last night I am now not quite sure how I can see any other concert ever again.

I bought a ticket. I cashed in airline miles. I flew 1,000 miles. I booked a hotel (for two nights, because I couldn’t possibly chance flying in the morning of the show). I woke up Saturday morning, drove to St. Paul, and walked up to the gates of Midway Stadium at a little before 12 noon.

“The concert isn’t until 7 o’clock,” said some guys working inside the ballpark.
“I know,” I said, sitting down on the sidewalk next to a large concrete pig. “I know.”

I do not do things halfway.

The Replacements onstage last night were utterly brilliant. It was insane, it was fun, it was a little silly, and it was loud. It was present and future and all of those songs you know and you love and have listened to over and over again, played about as well as you are ever likely to hear them performed. I know I am not objective about this band, but last night at Midway was absolutely phenomenal and exceeded every expectation.

I had gotten on the plane from New York with the highest of hopes. “I want horns on ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’! I want special guests! I want Peter Buck to walk out and play the guitar solo on ‘I Will Dare’!” I didn’t actually expect that I would get go-go dancers, a light show and a pantomime horse (although the latter would actually make a lot more sense at a ‘Mats show than the other two), but I knew there was no way Westerberg was going to let us down at home. There were debts to repay, grievances to settle, oaths to uphold. I know I am being dramatic, and that I have spent entirely too much of my life psychoanalyzing Paul Westerberg, but after last night’s show I am pretty sure I am more right than wrong.

The crowd had been squishy but sedate through Lucero and The Hold Steady (both of whom were absolutely fantastic—not to minimize, but I am not here to talk about them, short of Craig Finn’s utterly ecstatic, “The Replacements are next” at the end of “Southtown Girls”) until the first notes of “Favorite Thing” and then the front row turned into every front row ever at a Replacements concert, with that one asshole behind you who refuses just to jump up and down and instead jumps sideways, somehow, right into your back all fucking night. I knew that “Takin’ A Ride” and “I’m In Trouble” wouldn’t improve that condition, but I am tougher than I look and I had not traveled a thousand miles to be pushed out of my spot by some jackass who probably wasn’t born yet when I was getting kicked in the head at Replacements shows up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Fuck you, I am not moving, and I am going to play air guitar along with the guitar solo in “I’m In Trouble” to boot.

They came wearing matching plaid suits, all four of them. Of course they are, said every single person in Midway Stadium, many of whom were wearing some collision of plaid in tribute themselves. (I still evaluate plaids in my head as “‘Mats plaid” or not.) This is the kind of thing that will only make sense to you if you know this band. If you do not know this band, it is not anything I can explain. And that sentence explains Replacements fandom in a nutshell; there are no half-fans of the Replacements. You love them or you hate them; you get them or you don’t. It has always been this way, and I am personally glad that it is still like this. (I’m looking at you, Coachella.)

There was not much missing from this setlist; upon reflection this morning, I decided that the two songs I would have liked to have heard were “Go” and “Johnny’s Gonna Die” (hey, Paul, how about the latter in New York next week, it would only be appropriate in the borough Mr. Genzale was born and is buried in), both of which are likely not realistic but are just personal favorites. “Go” was the first Replacements song I remember hearing, playing late at night on some college station left of the dial, and I waited for the DJ to tell me who it was and when they didn’t I picked up the phone and called. The next day I bought Stink and Sorry Ma and that was it, you know? I was a goner.

And I love the later stuff: I love “Valentine” and “Merry Go Round” just as much as I love “Hospital.” There is not much I do not love in ‘Mats land, although I kind of wince now at “Waitress In The Sky” and kind of wish they could leave that one out. I love the ballads and the pop songs and the thrashers and the anthems, and yes, they are anthems, they were big songs written to fill big spaces, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. “Color Me Impressed” is an anthem, and so are “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Alex Chilton” and “Bastards of Young”. The only thing I was sorry about being so close last night is being able to see the impact of those songs on the entire audience.

Paul came to play last night; they came to do serious business on that stage. And usually the missing piece in that equation of intent is the ability to have fun doing it. Josh Freese and Dave Minehan are fantastic partners in crime that help them do exactly that, because they are so clearly having the time of their lives up there. They love the songs and they care so much about the material, which is what differentiates them from any other players that could have been chosen to join them on this outing. Paul and Tommy can trust them with the material. Freese shares Chris Mars’ solidity and consistency, and Minehan has this voodoo-like thing going with Paul where he can pick up anything Paul drops or throws to him, or throttle it back when Paul decides he wants to play the fucking guitar, like he did last night. My enjoyment at watching Paul take parts I was looking to Minehan to handle knew no bounds last night.

And the acoustic numbers were sheer beauty. “If Only You Were Lonely” was crystal clear. I thought he was going to get through “Androgynous” all the way before throwing it to the crowd, and I love watching Tommy preemptively sing the lines to him. And I am very sure Boston did not sing it better, despite Paul’s teasing assertion.

I did not burst into tears when the band walked onstage because I was fighting for my spot, and still didn’t lose it until later. “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Bastards” were sheer crystallized joy, bright lights and grinning ear to ear; I have never sang along to these songs so loudly or with more enjoyment. I didn’t lose it until the encore, when Paul came out for “Skyway.” When we parked the car Friday night and got into the elevator, I held it up so I could take a photo of the button marked SKYWAY, these exotic things that do not exist in my world and I only know about because of the Replacements. (The first time I came to town and saw one and then the penny dropped: “SKYWAY!” I was so excited.)

But then, “Left of the Dial” and it was full on waterworks. It was because the song is so beautiful, deliberately, and it is more masterful than people probably give it credit for; the music evokes such a feeling of longing, and distance, and I am blubbering because it is so gorgeous and because it is about my world and it is a song that someone like my niece will never be able to understand, driving around late at night in the pre-Clear Channel days in a new town and turning the knob all the way to the left to find the cool radio station. I am crying because I am old, and my world is old, and Paul and Tommy (who I used to refer to as ‘the fluffy little dandelion’ back in the striped overalls days) are old, too.

But then, it is “Alex Chilton” and the children by the millions are singing along at the top of their lungs and I am singing along as if my life depended on it. I am raising my arm in the air at the St. Mark’s Place reference, I am pogoing up and down with my arm straight up in the air: “NEVER TRAVEL FAR / WITHOUT A LITTLE BIG STAR,” I scream, surprised at my own need for that particular level of vehemence tonight.

I was fine when they left the stage at that moment, because it had been so big and glorious and so very much, you know? So much. This is why I was caught completely unaware when Paul returned with a 12-string electric and started playing chords I did not recognize, and when Tommy came back and whispered in his ear I still had no clue. But then he shifted from random into straight ahead fucking focus when he hit the opening chords to “Unsatisfied,” and the world stopped turning, at least for a moment. The stars aligned, the planets paused. It is my song, you know? It is the song I play for people to explain my love of the Replacements to. It is the song for which I put forth my passionate exhortation in “Color Me Obsessed.” There is a reason there is a chapter about the Replacements and this song in my first novel. It is my song, and I am front row center, and they are playing it, and right now I don’t care but they are playing it for me. And they were playing it for them, Paul’s voice edging out on the border of the gravel, he is playing it perfectly, he is playing it straight, he is going to end this show with this performance, and none of this is offhand, or accidental. He was going to get it right, he got it right, and he knew he got it right.

At the end, after he put the guitar down, he headed straight for Tommy and grabbed him into the fiercest bear hug ever. The expressions on their faces were of triumph and relief and satisfaction and happiness. It said, “We did it,” and “We did it right.”

I watched them walk away, and the roadie walk across the stage, switching the amps off, one by one, the red lights turning to black. I am smiling, and do not stop smiling even as I fall asleep hours later, the opening chords of “Unsatisfied” still echoing in my brain.

p.s.

I never make a big deal about getting set lists these days; it’s less of a badge of honor than it is a mark of someone’s ability to be an obnoxious, greedy pain in the ass yelling at the road crew to hand them something. And I watched as set lists went to various people in the audience. But then, I made eye contact with someone, and waved, and there were nods of specific approval and Paul’s setlist was carefully removed off the stage and handed over to me with specific instructions that it go to me and not to any of the other grabbing hands around me, reaching out for it.

I cannot think of a more cherished possession than that piece of paper right now.

p.p.s. I also filed a story for Billboard.com.

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