Sunday, September 7, 2014.
" ... raise a toast, to a rock and roll ghost."
We were Boston bound for the Minneapolis sound. Replacements fans around the globe suffered through rock and roll purgatory, waiting for a Westerberg-Stinson reunion we thought would never happen. "Should we give it up?"
On Sept 7, for New England fans, it was all over but the shouting. At 8:15 sharp, Jesus rode beside us. Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg were all smiles as they walked onto the Boston Calling stage. (Yes, SMILES!)
They were joined by Boston native, guitarist, Dave Minehan, (Who worked with Paul Westerberg, on his solo album, 14 Songs, and plays in the band, The Neighborhoods) with Josh Freese on drums. (Freese has played with: A Perfect Circle, Paramore, Nine Inch Nails, Devo, The Vandals, Sting, Paul Westerberg, Guns N' Roses, Fliptop, Ween, Kelly Clarkson, The Offspring, Weezer, The Desert Sessions, Mötley Crüe, Sublime with Rome, Avril Lavigne, Meraki)
Unlike younger bands, the Mats had no rebel reputation to prove. (Was the wine in The 1975 guys' staged bottle even real?) Dressed like gents, they looked crisp and sharp tonight, ready to take on the multi-generational festival pumped crowd. Tommy was finishing a beer and mumbled something to Paul, to which he laughed, "Hippies ... F*ckin' Hippies ..." Within a flash, Westerberg took off his jacket and they got down to the business of completely blowing our minds beyond expectation.
From Let It Be, "Favorite Thing," ran over us like punka-motive train. The energy of each band member came straight at us simultaneously, to the point that we were getting whiplash trying to watch the chords. It's hard to believe that there were only four guys up there, making so much magnificent noise.
"Takin a Ride" came out just as fast, via Sorry Ma I Forgot to Take Out The Trash. Sometime between "I'm In Trouble" and "Don't Ask Why," Tommy and Paul ended up whispering something to each other, as they had tricks up their sleeves. Laughing and snickering together, it was pure joy and they were certainly up to no good.
Paul: "I forgot my kazoo ... can't go on stage without your kazoo, right?" "Here's a song with no chorus ... "
"I'll Be You" (Don't Tell A Soul) settled the fans into a familiar groove and the dream was finally real. The rebel without a clue was doing just fine tonight.
Paul: "... It's been so God damn long ... I'm all choked up here ... "
From their start in 1979, with Bobby Stinson, Tommy Stinson, Paul Westerberg and Chris Mars, selling records was never as important as playing what they wanted to hear. Their moody antics on the stages of yore made for some wild ramped bootlegs. Since their July 4, 1991, break up on stage at the Taste of Chicago, fans have lived and breathed every note of the Mats and their solo hero projects. Tommy played with Guns and Roses, as well as other bands, and released two solo records, (One Man Mutiny is a fav). Paul Westerberg has several solo albums (14 Songs, Eventually, Suicaine Gratification) some of which he toured, plus was successful in TV and film music productions. Their return through the Riot Fest series was rumored, controversial and for music followers, a lot of guess work, until they started showing up - and staying, at venues around the country in 2013.
Many core Mats fans believe unless the original line-up is present, we are not at a Replacements show. But the union of Westerberg and Stinson on stage, playing Replacements songs, is worth the trip for a multitude of people living left of the dial.
Years later, and thousands of listens to the music later, veteran fans are tasting the anticipation, while newcomers are curious. They have been pulling off huge venue sets since their return. There is talent and cohesiveness after the take five and the fans talked about it all night long. Young fans waiting in the crowd said, "I don't know all of their songs, but I like their style ..." The Mats won over Boston tonight, before they even arrived. A couple of long time fans traveled from New Zealand to Boston just to see The Replacements:
During the Boston Calling Music Festival, they built a set list that mixed popular classics with deep cuts, similar to the shows before. From the beloved rhythmic and brain infecting album, Pleased To Meet Me, came "Valentine." "If you were a pill, I'd take a handful at my will, and I'd knock you back with something sweet and strong ..." The soaring guitars with cutting drums, that pick up the lyrics of this masterpiece flooded us. "Waitress in the Sky" was hilarious in hearing the crowd sing along.
Westerberg then sat down, guitar on his lap, and started playing some cool, swaggered blues tones. We realized he wasn't using a slide, but a pepper shaker. A fan said it sounded like Hendrix.
Paul: "I don't know, but it goes something like this ... " "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" (Let It Be) "I can't breathe! ... laughs ... heart attack ... Saturday night ..." Westerberg looks at the crowd, shakes his head ... rips into "Take Me Down to the Hospital."
And just as we were settling in, happy with our lot in life, The Replacements completely floored us with a riveting fast, strobe-light version of the highly recognizable riff, "I Want You Back" (The Jackson 5 cover). What a blast to be rail riding retro groovy and before we even hit our stride, HOOTENANNY! "Color Me Impressed" hit us right between the eyes.
Tommy Stinson addressed the crowd with stories of the band. "One guy would suck more than the others ... The Orpheum was tough." He implied they muddle through each show relying on one member not to suck as much as they other so it will all work out.
"Achin' To Be" had Tommy coordinating with Josh Freese on drums. The band was wound up tight and let me tell you, watching from the front row, they commanded. The speed, accuracy and intensity were like individual power generators from their respective parts of the stage. In this type of rock, fast, punk rhythm is king, but knowing which chords to leave untied turns the band into a man made supernova, sending the fans flying in all directions. Funny how the origin of this energy potential is Tommy Stinson's basement.
There was reverence to the original Replacements in the venue tonight, which made the appreciation of the performance even more remarkable. My science loving daughter reminded me, "When a gigantic star dies, it blows up into a supernova, then it condenses into either a black hole or a neutron star." We know Bobby Stinson speaks to some fans in their dreams. We miss Slim Dunlap and keep him in our prayers. We miss Chris Mars, hail to his art, of course. And the other musicians (Steve Foley) who've played with and supported the band along the way. (Kevin Bowe and The Songs for Slim musicians rock!) We love the ghosts of this band, and the skeletons in their closets too.
We know The Replacements are not about perfect notes, pitches or ego laden solos. We love the improv or better yet, dropped Westerbergian lyrics. The Replacements are an imperfect chemistry formula that embraces a random element. A mix of in your face, don't give a sh*t, brilliant song writing, wild risk taking, and yes, warmth and loyalty to the fans. (Warmth? Yes!) I saw it in their faces. We can talk all week about the Mats being bad-ass, but I saw what the music and performing meant to them right there on that stage. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
"Kiss Me On The Bus" took us for a ride with its running bass lines and straight out guitar riffs. Westerberg forgot the words to "Androgynous" mid-song and Tommy helped him out. They seemed to giggle the whole time. It was infectious. "I Will Dare" was sped up in the last verse and sounded amazing.
Tommy Stinson: "Finally ... It took him forever ... "
"Love You in the Fall" a Paul Westerberg original, played on the soundtrack to Open Season, was a nice break and focus on Westerberg. I have to admit, thanks to my groovy NYC friend, who gave me my first listen to the Mats in the 80's, I also have all the Westerberg albums, including the Grandpa Boy monotones for the turntable too. (You got a problem with that? "Stay where you are - stay away from me, With your eyes like sparks, my heart like gasoline ..." ha!)
We've had a request for the Mats to resume playing, "Skyway" or "Unsatisfied." I love, "Answering Machine." BBR co-writer, Al Whirly wrote in, "they've pretty much been sticking to same repertoire since Riot Fest ... "Skyway" or "Unsatisfied" ... was the best part of seeing Westerberg, the stage would go dark, the band would leave the stage except for Paul and his Les Paul Jr ... he'd do his best to bust out "Unsatisfied," but he couldn't compete with the audience drowning out what remained of his voice ... brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it now." I read in an interview that Westerberg didn't care for "Unsatisfied" but the fans love it.
Toward the end of the set, Westerberg took out a harp. He's made reference in interviews to admiring friends and musicians who play harmonica and it was great to see him take this on for us tonight.
"Love You Till Friday" was announced by Paul as a song from their first album. Paul said he, "wanted to play all night." Then, as tradition, "Maybellene" (The 1955 Chuck Berry hit) beckoned the stage, going right into "Can't Hardly Wait." It was at this point that the fans lost total control and the City Hall Plaza seemed to erupt. The Capitol One Red Stage was hit by lightening the night before, sadly, canceling Volcano Choir. Can lightening strike twice? I think it just did.
The hot saw riff of "Bastards of Young" made it all come together and we were not the only ones who wanted the Replacements to play all night. Paul and Tommy said they wanted to play a few more songs, but needed to get "permission." A few seconds later, the managers came out and Paul announced that Nas and The Roots allowed them to play an extra song. We were wild with excitement - and gratitude. "White and Lazy" was attempted, of course, with Westerberg not knowing all the words, but they nailed it.
When they exited, the fans did not move. People were screaming, banging, stretching their arms out as if they could reach the stage, begging for one more song. Did all the love that we had to pledge reach the ledge? The Big Star god was watching down on us, the "invisible man who can sing in a visible voice," and then we were face to face as Westerberg sung about his own music idol, "Alex Chilton."
See more photos of the Boston Calling show here.
Takin a Ride
I'm in Trouble
Don't Ask Why
I'll Be You
Waitress in the Sky
Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
Take Me Down to the Hospital
I Want You Back
(The Jackson 5 cover)
Color Me Impressed
Achin' To Be
Kiss Me On The Bus
I Will Dare
Love You in the Fall
(Paul Westerberg song)
Love You Till Friday
(Chuck Berry cover)
Can't Hardly Wait
Bastards of Young
White and Lazy
To Glenn, Paul and Randy, see you in New York. And to Mary, sorry the music is always too loud in the car, you can measure the sound barrier when you become a great scientist someday!