Resurrected Replacements Rock Roundhouse
This article is taken from Bucketfull Of Brains magazine Issue 83, available here
It is an hour since The Replacements exited the stage at the Roundhouse after their second, triumphant London concert. Frontman Paul Westerberg looks trim, healthy and well-groomed – crisp black cotton trousers and a vaguely Nashville shirt replace the khaki baggies and baggy white T shirt he’d worn earlier on stage. He is quietly spoken, and takes modest sips of red, red wine from a plastic tumbler as we talk in a deserted production office backstage at the Roundhouse. The last time he played a gig in London was October 2004, a memorable if ramshackle solo performance at the Scala which we covered in BoB#68. In comparison the Roundhouse shows are higher profile and better attended. Penultimate shows on the Back By Unpopular Demand world tour, they represent the return of The Replacements after a 24 year hiatus.
The Replacements were thought to have played their final gig in July 1991, after which Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson took up solo careers which continue to this day. Original guitarist Bob Stinson (elder brother of Tommy) was ejected from the band in May 1986 and was replaced by Minneapolis journeyman Slim Dunlap, who is now too ill to tour. Original drummer Chris Mars left in November 1990 to pursue a successful career as an artist. For the current tour the replacement Replacements are Dave Mineham on lead guitar and vocals and Josh Freese on drums, both of whom play with a commitment and enthusiasm rare in hired hands. “Dave is now a record producer but his background is what I do, lead singer / rhythm guitar player. He’s the same age as me, knew the Mats back in the day and we played with his group The Neighbourhoods. I knew his wife.” Drummer Josh Freese is a very in-demand session guy who has played off and on with Paul since 1992. Darren Hill, who we last saw playing bass for Paul at the Clapham Grand in 1993 is now Paul’s manager, or at least one of them. “I trust him. He’s a smart guy. We both have a love for rockabilly”.
All through his solo career Paul has always played Replacements songs, sometimes solo and sometimes with a backing band. Yet some strange alchemy takes place when Paul and Tommy line up under the Replacements name, giving the material added resonance. So why tour as The Replacements after so long? There is a long pause and then a one-word answer. “Maintenance.” Of yourself or your back catalogue, I enquire? A wry chuckle and then he resumes. “It’s all because of Slim. He was the catalyst. Songs For Slim set the ball rolling. The fact is Slim is barely able to speak but he croaked ‘Go do it.’ Seeing someone so incapacitated…I felt we’ve got to, why sit at home and twiddle our thumbs” Both nights Paul bought Slim into the Roundhouse by shouting out his name during the pause on ‘I’ll Be You’, the nearest thing to a hit the original band ever had. “Slim invested a lot of himself in that song”
So how does it feel to be on stage, look to your right and see Tommy? “75% of the time it’s great, about the same as the first time around. To give you a classic example we both drifted away a bit tonight, we pulled it back, like he’s trying so I’ll try. I’ll try then he’ll get back. Thank God this isn’t too long – if we went three months, we wouldn’t get along too well.“ I mention that I found tonight’s show more relaxed than the previous night and all the better for it. Paul had his own way of breaking the ice. “Fell flat on my ass at the start of the very first number. I felt humiliated for two songs”.
How do you decide which songs you will play live? “Trial and error. Especially when we’re over here we do songs that people can sing along to, so to omit them would be a mistake, even if some are a little pedestrian. It’s still difficult for me to play the quieter side so that’s why I do solo records. I play ‘Skyway’ but not like it’s on the record with just me, I don’t want the rest of the guys sitting around and not contributing. I tried one or two new songs earlier in the tour. We tried to rehearse a few new things and it didn’t feel right plus we’ve only got 90 minutes” Whose idea was it to graft a version of Milly Small’s pop-smash ‘My Boy Lollipop’ onto the end of uber-loud ‘Bastards Of Young’? “Mine. It happened one night and it was great and it’s gone downhill from then.”
I suggest that this is the first time that songs from all phases of The Replacements career been presented live in a uniform and professional manner, making them sound like a consistent body of work. “There’s truth to that. The early stuff like ‘Takin’ A Ride’ and ‘I’m In Trouble’ would have been sandwiched with covers and crap and messing around and whatever we thought of, so now we’re plugging the ones we can play best.“ Replacement crowds are vociferous in their desire for obscure cover versions. Like tonight, yelling for ‘Ye Sleeping Knights Of Jesus’. “ They keep calling for it. It’s a Robyn Hitchcock song we played once. Once.“
Noticeably absent from both London gigs was fan-fave ‘Here Comes A Regular’. How come? “It’s too many words. I monkeyed with it a few weeks ago, I was asked to do Dave Letterman’s farewell programme and they wanted that song but it’s a long way to go for a maudlin drinking song and I didn’t have the patience to remember it. Westerberg’s notorious inability to remember his own lyrics means that the first couple of rows at a Replacements gig are frequently required to act as a human teleprompter. Manager Darren thinks Paul pretends to forget lyrics on purpose – it means that no matter how crisply and powerfully the band perform they can never be accused of being too slick.
Do songs drift in and out of relevance with you? “Yes. Playing something like ‘Unsatisfied’ now could be an act but I know that people want to hear it so I’ll mean it while I’m playing it, and then be able to put it down. But a lot of songs from that era were lived, and then written so some of the memories take me down a bit of black hole”
Are you seeing younger fans coming to gigs? “I am told there are. I never make eye contact with the audience, I just look at the back of the hall.” The success on YouTube of a version of ‘Androgynous’ sung by Miley Cyrus, Laura Jane Grace and Joan Jett must surely bring in a new generation of fans? “I don’t know. It’s not the best song to cover, in terms of the weight of its meaning. It’s not the best song to sing.” The line “He may be a Father but he’s sure not a Dad” appeals to me greatly. “Yeah, I probably wrote that about Tommy’s father, he never really knew his dad.”
“I’ve lost a lot of weight doing this. That makes me think perhaps a bit of this is good for me. But then getting caught up in this rock’n’roll thing, not knowing what to do with myself, I can’t relax. It’s a way of life that I am not comfortable with all the time. Right now everyone else is saying what club shall we go to, and I have no desire to do that. I’ve done that. And I’ve got to go now, I’ve done enough talking.“ With that, Paul gets up, bids me goodnight and disappears into the night in search of…what?
There are apparently no future plans for the Replacements beyond one final concert in Portugal. Tommy is recording with Luther Dickinson, the son of Pleased To Meet Me producer Jim Dickinson. Luther describes the music they are making together as good, straightforward rock’n’roll.
There exists professionally recorded footage of the Replacements September 2014 appearance before 15,000 rabid hometown fans at the Midway Stadium in Minneapolis which would according to Darren make a cool DVD. If this is the last hurrah, the Replacements have gone out on a high, with smiles onstage and in the audience and the greatness of the group re-asserted. Colour me impressed.
Songs Played – Tuesday 2nd June
Takin’ A Ride
I’m In Trouble
Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
Waitress In The Sky
Lost Highway (Hank Williams)
Kiss Me On The Bus
Achin’ To Be
I Will Dare
Dust My Broom (Elmore James)
Color Me Impressed
Merry Go Round
I’ll Be You
Maybellene (Chuck Berry)
Can’t Hardly Wait
Bastards Of Young / My Boy Lollipop (Millie Small)
Left Of The Dial
If Only You Were Lonely
Another Girl, Another Planet (Only Ones)
Songs Played – Wednesday 3rd June
Takin’ A Ride
Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
I’m in Trouble
Waitress in the Sky
Kiss Me on the Bus
Take Me Down to the Hospital
I Will Dare
Color Me Impressed
I Want You Back (Jackson 5)
I’ll Be You
I Don’t Know / Buck Hill / I Don’t Know
Within Your Reach
Can’t Hardly Wait
Bastards of Young / My Boy Lollipop (Millie Small)
Be My Lover (Alice Cooper – sung by Dave Minehan)
If Only You Were Lonely
Seen Your Video
Left of the Dial
Twenty-nine songs per night and forty-one different songs played over the two nights. Songs such as ‘Dust My Broom’ and ‘Take Me Down To The Hospital’ were not planned but came about through a Paul Westerberg whim and a shout from the crowd respectively. There were a lot of people shouting requests on both nights: Paul’s response was to say “I’m just going to wait until someone says something that’s on the list” pointing to the setlist taped to the floor by his foot. Sound-mixer Andy Crow confided they were on their best behaviour in London: earlier tour dates had seen the agreed setlist pretty much abandoned. Initial reviews were ecstatic, with The Guardian, NME and the Evening Standard all fulsome in their praise. For me the band achieved the ideal balance between being professional, spontaneous, powerful and sensitive. The material from Sorry Ma… and Stink benefitted by being played in a more considered way: conversely songs from Don’t Tell A Soul and All Shook Down were greatly improved by the harder live sound. As for the material from Hootenanny, Let It Be, Tim and Pleased To Meet me – these songs sounded as great as they always have.
Postscript: From The Guardian, June 6th 2015
“In a move that will come as a surprise to precisely no one who has followed their career, The Replacements have split for the second and, apparently, final time. Paul Westerberg, the band’s leader, announced from the stage at Primavera Porto on Friday that it would be their final show together. He also observed that the rest of the band had stayed at their hotel rather than sound-checking, calling them “lazy bastards to the end”.
So that would appear to be that (for now)
Confessions Of A Tour DJ
Having Dj’d at gigs by The Only Ones and The Flamin’ Groovies I approached promoters LiveNation to offer my services for the Roundhouse gigs. After 6 weeks of calls and emails I had got precisely nowhere. However one email to The Replacements management and I got the job.
Why play records in between bands?
- You get to see the gig for free
- You get to inflict your taste in music on 6000 music fans
- You get to hear what your favourite records sound like played very loud in a big room
- You get a really good view of the gig – my pair of Technics were set up on Dave Mineham’s side of the stage just beyond his amp
On Tuesday I had four sessions – before supports Jesse Malin and You Am I and then briefly before and after The Replacements themselves. Having only You Am I as support on Wednesday meant only three sessions, but more needle-time. You can see which records I played at www.onlyrockandroll.london – many have connections to the Replacements being either songs the band have covered, acknowledged influences on the group or songs recorded by other bands from Minneapolis. Which was why on Tuesday night I was planning to play ‘Surfin’ Bird’ by The Trashmen. I was just lining up the record when without me pressing go, the track began to play. Weird. Tums out the band were using the song as their introduction music. The following night they took no chances, entering to a rousing ‘Pool Hall Richard’ by The Faces.
Paul’s T shirts
On this leg of the tour every night Paul has worn a white T containing a large letter front and back. Over the course of 19 shows the letters have spelled out two messages. Fans speculated as to what was being said, particularly after Paul let slip that the message on the front is for the audience whilst the message on the back is for the band. Paul’s T shirts even received their own Facebook page. The London gigs saw an O and a U on the front and S and a T on the back, making I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED YOU and NOW I MUST WHORE MY PAST. The final gig in Portugal saw Paul adding BELA (front) and VIDA (back), Bela Vida meaning ‘Good Life’ in Portuguese.
Songs For Slim
This 5 track EP on New West Records was released in January 2013 as a fund-raiser for Slim Dunlap, whose severe stroke in February 2012 left him partially paralysed, and with big medical bills but no insurance. Whilst Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars are all here Chris only plays on an over-produced solo rendition of Slim’s ‘Radio Hook Word Hit’, leaving Tommy and Paul backed on the other tracks by Kevin Bowe on guitars and Peter Anderson on drums. The record has an offhand feel, almost like original Mats gigs where whimsical cover versions such as ‘If I Only Had A Brain’ were de rigueur. Here they take a crack at ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’, possibly the bands none too subtle message to Slim. Producer Ed Ackerson makes the band sound like they’re in their rehearsal space, and it suits them. Slim’s ‘Busted Up ‘gets a Bo Diddley beat and too much piano. The real gem here is Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘I’m Not Saying’, where Paul copies Nico’s phrasing and slips in a little Johnny Thunders reference whilst the band reel off the chords in true beat group style. The following ‘Lost Highway’ by comparison is little bit ragged, a little bit pub-rock. But it’s heart is the right place, it’s in a good cause and the record is worth having just for ‘I’m Not Saying’ .
The Replacements Re-Released and Unreleased
In 2008 Rhino released all eight of the Replacements original LPs as remastered and expanded CDs. High quality Westerberg originals such as ‘Perfectly Lethal’ (Let It Be) and ‘Photo’ (Pleased To Meet Me) were thus available for the first time. Sound quality is excellent and each CD comes with full sleeve notes. Whilst a few studio outtakes are still to gain official release, the lack of a decent concert recording is more puzzling. Recommended unofficial soundboard CDs include Everybody Loves An Ego-Maniac! (CBGBs ’84), Putting On The Ritz (Ritz Theatre New York ‘87) and Shit Shower & Shave (the infamous Tom Petty tour ’89). Also worth locating is the CD Unintentionally, which combines home demos of released and unreleased songs with a good quality recording of Paul’s first ever solo gig at The First Avenue in Minneapolis on October 17th 1982.
Also of note is the new Replacements CD Box Set, The Complete Studio Albums 1981-1990 (Rhino). All eight albums feature the improved sound found on the 2008 remasters but do not contain the extra tracks or sleeve notes found on the individual discs. However since this means you can pick the entire Replacements catalogue up for around £20 this represents a bargain (the best I ever had) for any newbie or luddite.
Reading About The Replacements
In 2007 Jim Walsh published All Over Bar The Shouting: An Oral History the first ever history of The Replacements. Paul was unimpressed: “A mish mash of lifted quotes and misquotes”. Late 2015 will see the publication of band-history Trouble Boys by Bob Mehr, about which Paul is more enthusiastic.. “Bob Mehr has interviewed me. God, he knows more about the band than I remember”. Also recommended is The Replacements Bible 1.4, which can be readily found via Google and contains reprints of seemingly every article written about the band, plus a useful discography and list of live sets.
Watching The Replacements on DVD
The Replacements do not appear in Color Me Obsessed, Gorman Bechard’s two hours plus essay about a band and its fans, released as a DVD in 2012. Paul found it hard to watch. “At first I found it embarrassing. I was surprised at how much we meant to people. But surely all bands are like this, right? AC/DC or Slayer have their die-hard fans. So I try to keep some perspective, I don’t think we’re special.” A compilation of the band’s live performances is long overdue, although the Twin Tone website has some good quality clips from 1981 ( http://www.twintone.com ).
The Replacements Online
There is a vibrant online community of Replacement fans, centred around keeper of the flame Kathy and her site Man Without Ties ( http://www.paulwesterberg.com ) and the associated fan forum site (http://paulwesterberg.proboards.com ). For an astonishing array of live concerts visit The Replacements Live Archive Project ( http://replacementslivearchive.blogspot.co.uk ) whose mission is “to track down, digitize, share and archive all Replacements and related recordings.” A good reference for unofficial Replacements CDs can be found at The Foshay Tower ( http://www.22designs.com/foshaytower2/index_net.html ) whilst Nowhere Is My Home has collated many articles on the band ( http://nowhereismyhome.blogspot.co.uk )
Thank you managers Darren Hill and Ben Perlstein, UK production rep Simon Balmy and US tour manager Rick Marino
Photo credits: Robin Pope (Instagram @RobinLDN)