Two Nights With The Replacements, 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.


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.


“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.