TVD Live: The Replacements at Shaky Knees Festival, 5/10

As legacies go, it’s a beaut. The problem with legacies, though, is that once removed from their protective amber shells, they become extremely volatile. Used to be, a band wouldn’t have to deal with this conundrum. Once you broke up, that was it, and even Lorne Michaels dangling a $3,000 check on live television couldn’t dissuade you. However, the recent flurry of band reunions, led by the resurgent Pixies, has put many long-term reputations in play. Does the money grab overrule concerns about tarnishing past glories? That is the question currently before The Replacements.

What is The Replacements these days, anyway? Bob Stinson is long gone, Slim Dunlap is battling a stroke-related illness and Chris Mars can’t be bothered, apparently. Thus, it’s down to Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson to carry the ‘Mats mantle into the 21st century, at least as far as live performances go. The band was always an erratic entity on stage, but those indiscretions were more easily excused when they were wayward youthful impulses. How well can a middle-aged, relatively sober and professional outfit hold up against the image of their reckless, rule-breaking, hell-raising former selves? As it turns out, pretty damn well.

Prior to their set at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees festival on May 10th, I had last laid eyes on The Replacements during the Dallas, Texas, stop for ‘89’s Don’t Tell a Soul tour. I interviewed Chris Mars for my radio show before the gig and the resignation in his voice foreshadowed the lackluster performance that followed. The band that took the stage that evening was out of steam and almost out of ideas. Mars had already launched a solo career and Westerberg was soon to follow, spending the next two decades releasing alternately brilliant and disappointing material, sometimes within the same song.

His live shows fared no better, with a 4/26/05 NYC date beginning as a tour de force only to slip sadly into a drunken farce. For a fan, it was painful to watch. Not long after, Westerberg accidentally impaled his left hand with a screwdriver, effectively ending his live work for an extended period. Meanwhile, Tommy Stinson began an unlikely career as Axl Rose’s enabler in the reconstituted GnR. Egads, I hope the paycheck was good.

When I read about the band’s plans to return to live performance last year, it was with equal parts joy and dread. Without Mars, they would be violating my long-held “Band Quorum” rule, which states: any band that does not have a majority of original members on stage is NOT said band. Furthermore, any band without their original frontperson/singer is DEFINITELY NOT said band. Yeah, I know AC/DC pulled it off but they’re the exception that proves the rule. See Queen/ Priest/ Journey/ CCRevisited/ Led Zeppelin (almost!), etc., for ample proof.

Yet, in the case of The Replacements, Westerberg had always been first among the equals. He wrote the songs, sang them and more than even Bob Stinson, embodied the romantic slacker fuckup portrayed is his lyrics. His “I dunno” everyman image became just as archetypal for Generation X as Keith Richards’ elegantly wasted minstrel had been for an earlier generation. Many alt-rock entrepreneurs followed Westerberg’s lead, climbing the ladder of success while their hero’s career remained a mess, more or less. This left the faithful with memories of live gigs and a discography with a distinct bell curve, the peak of which (Let It Be, Tim, Pleased to Meet Me) is one of rock’s premier three-album runs. Would getting back on stage result in a celebration of that summit or a hacky, ripped jeans nostalgia trip? I wasn’t sure but I was intrigued enough to find out.

This being a ‘Mats show, things couldn’t go off without a hitch or two. Ten minutes before their set time, the overcast skies erupted, dumping sheets of rain on the assembled throng, going from Shaky to soggy knees in seconds. Water cascaded onto the front lip of the stage from the canopy overhead, sending the stage crew into a frenzy, rushing to cover or pull back the exposed electronics. Mercifully, the rain subsided after twenty minutes and the band walked onstage to a jet engine equivalent roar. “Thank you for waiting,” Paul told the crowd and dove headfirst into “Takin’ a Ride” from their ’81 debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. The audience response was thunderous.

Accompanying Paul and Tommy were, er, replacement Replacements Dave Minehan on guitar and Josh Freese on drums. They acquitted themselves ably, playing their parts without overshadowing the OGs. One verse into the second song, “Love You Till Friday,” Paul stopped abruptly, asking Minehan , “What is it, B-flat?,” and upon receiving confirmation, resumed strumming frantically on his Les Paul Junior. From there, they floored it through a breakneck speed cover of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” and then things got, well, odd.

Before kicking off “I’m In Trouble,” a diminutive, black-clad figure hopped on stage and plugged in his guitar. Reading between the mascara lines, I saw that it was noted Broadway composer Billie Joe Armstrong. Paul acknowledged his presence, saying, “As you can see now, the band has swollen to a quintet,” and audience reaction was less “YAY!” than “WTF?” Really, it was like the guy who thought he was invited to the dinner party showing up unexpectedly, leaving the hosts to scramble and set an extra place (“Honestly, I didn’t invite him!” “Neither did I!”). I feared the title of the song about to be played was prophetic.

As it turned out, BJ was seen but not really heard for most of the set. To his credit, he eschewed his usual stage gymnastics and remained in the background. From his standpoint, I get it, because who WOULDN’T want to be up there playing alongside legends. I just don’t understand why the band felt the need for a fifth wheel, but so be it.

Introducing “Kiss Me on the Bus,” Paul said, “A lot of people like this song, but it’s an awkward song to yell out for. This is for all the men who particularly like this song…” It was followed by “Achin’ to Be,” setting the tone for more melodic Westerberg compositions to come, notably “Merry Go ‘Round” and “I’ll Be You.” They threw in a tart cover of The Ramones’ “Judy Is a Punk” mid-set, presumably as a palate cleanser.

The last third of the set was heavy with crowd-pleasers: “Left of the Dial,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Alex Chilton,” “Swingin’ Party.” The Atlanta crowd sang along and roared in all the right places (like the “sweet Georgia breezes” line in LOTD). During “Alex Chilton,” I thought I detected a pronounced melancholy as Paul sang, “if he died in Memphis, then that’d be cool” Alas, he didn’t and it wasn’t. What was cool was seeing Westerberg and Stinson looking robust, a little worse for the years, perhaps, but better for the journey.

The opening notes of “Bastards of Young” shook the audience into such a fervor that I was left in partial shock. This song, written as an anthem over twenty-five years before, had finally, FINALLY reached its destiny. To hear twenty thousand people sing “WE ARE THE SONS OF NO ONE” at the top of their lungs was something almost too wonderful to witness.

It left me momentarily confused: is this too little, too late? Why couldn’t this have happened in 1986? Am I just overwhelmed with nostalgia for the fanzine era? Ultimately, none of that matters. What is important is how the music makes you feel in the moment, and at that particular moment I felt alive, invincible, oblivious to my waterlogged sneakers and the passage of time. It may be a fountain of momentary youth, but it is eternally available through genuine musical experiences. On this night, just a few blocks from Ponce de Leon Boulevard, I drank from that fountain and it quenched a deep thirst. I’ll carry your water any time, boys.

SETLIST 5/10/14:
Takin’ a Ride
Love You Till Friday
I’m In Trouble
Favorite Thing
Nowhere Is My Home
Color Me Impressed
Kiss Me On The Bus
Achin’ to Be
Merry Go ‘Round
Judy Is a Punk
I Will Dare
I’ll Be You
Left of the Dial
Alex Chilton
Swingin’ Party
Can’t Hardly Wait
I Don’t Know/Buck Hill
Bastards of Young

This entry was posted in TVD Nashville. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

  • Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text