The Replacements visited the UK for the first time in more than two decades last night to play the first of two dates at The Roundhouse. Reactions to this news vary from uncontained excitement to “er, who?”, so for the uninitiated, here’s what we need to know about The Replacements:
- Indie-pioneers from Minnesota formed in 1979.
- Classic line up: Guitarist / vocalist Paul Westerberg, guitarist Bob Stinson, bass guitarist Tommy Stinson and drummer Chris Mars.
- Whilst the band had underground punk roots through Bob Stinson’s guitar style, this was offset by Westerberg’s preference of writing melodic, classic pop songs with an appealingly honest lyrical style. The resultant mix blends elements of Hüsker Dü, The Smiths, R.E.M. and Big Star.
- Their 1984 album “Let It Be” is one of those albums that crops up a lot on Best Albums of All Time Lists, and many claim it is #1 in the “Best Album Called ‘Let It Be’” List, which let’s not forget, is a hotly contested category.
- The band split in 1991, and reformed in 2012 with two original members, Westerberg and Tommy Stinson. The irony of having replacements for two of The Replacements is surely not lost on the band, but is enforced: Mars is now an artist and passed on the opportunity to pick up his sticks again. Sadly Tommy’s brother Bob died in 1995 after years of alcohol / drug problems, and his replacement Slim Dunlap suffered several strokes in 2012 and has been hospitalised ever since.
- Indeed, an EP, “Songs For Slim” was the catalyst for The Replacements to reform, raising money in the process for Dunlap’s medical bills.
- The Replacements’ first live show as a reformed unit – making it a 22 year gap in between – was in August 2013, and this show was the UK’s first opportunity to see the band again.
What else should you know?
The Replacements forged a reputation as an unpredictable live act in the eighties. Often apparently drunk and shambolic, the band sabotaged their career at will, swearing and being banned from Saturday Night Live and having a cantankerous attitude on support slots with R.E.M. and Tom Petty (the latter reputedly writing the line “rebel without a clue” on “Into The Great Wide Open” with Westerberg in mind).
Westerberg: “When you open for a bigger band, you’re sort of treated like baggage, and it’s almost like “Well, you’re damn lucky to be on this bill.” And we don’t like being told what to do. So in those events, we would rather blow a show completely to flip them the bird than play the game.”
In 1985, one show comprised solely of a selection of cover tunes, and was captured by a bootlegger, seized by a roadie and released officially with the knowing title of “The S— Hits The Fans”. Although it sounds like the band were trying to wind up the audience, the band didn’t see it that way.
Westerberg defended his band: “It was fun. It was about 30 people and it was the last night of the tour. We started off and they didn’t know what the hell was going on, but they caught on halfway through the set that we were just sort of having a party with them and it was, like, special.”
So what of the 2015 version of the band? They can’t continue to be the angry young men they were thirty years ago, surely? So where does that leave them? Difficult also to be a nostalgia act if hardly anyone bought your records or saw you play all those years ago…
What the packed audience at The Roundhouse saw last night was a band at the top of its game, supporting Westerberg’s quote from thirty years ago.
There was plenty of good-humoured horseplay and bad cover songs (what better way to subvert one of your best and most powerful songs than to segue neatly into “My Boy Lollipop”?). Westerberg forgot words, messed up songs at will and yet kept a smile on his face. He’s like the punk Eric Morecambe, playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. However, this apparent self-sabotage no longer damages The Replacements’ reputation, as it did in the eighties, but now enhances it.
All this goofing around and the passage of time hasn’t blunted the impact of the songs. The Replacements’ ear for melody meant they were more than just another punk / new wave band. When Westerberg sings of being “Unsatisfied” he’s not phoning it in, and you could sense the band – and Westerberg and Tommy Stinson in particular – were enjoying being back together onstage.
In truth, thoughts of drunken aggro were quashed early, with what looked suspiciously like a cup of tea being placed on stage just before the start of the show by a sheepish looking roadie. I guess that’s the main difference between then and now…
An early song, “Takin’ A Ride”, kicked things off, pure punk and bluster. The Replacements blasted out the first few numbers apparently oblivious to the fact it had been 24 years since their last UK show. “Waitress In The Sky” brought the pace of the show down to merely chaotic.
Onstage Westerberg revels in his ability to keep things loose, safe in the knowledge he’s playing with a solid band. Whilst “Lost Highway” is a shambles, it only serves to lighten the mood.
“Androgynous” is a mid set highlight. A great slower-paced song that develops into something of a singalong, followed by the wonderful “I Will Dare”.
Westerberg pauses to take “requests”. “I’m gonna keep listening until someone calls out what’s written here” he jokes, pointing to the set list.
“I have are a request for “Black Diamond” he then remarks, referring to the Kiss cover that appears on “Let It Be”. You know what that means? That means we play the blues”, he says before the band launches into a punk inflected, but also creditably blues inflected cover of Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom”, Westerberg brandishing a mean slide guitar. Punks playing blues? You saw it here first…
More strong songs brought the band home. “Bastards of Young”, ” and a tough-edged “Alex Chilton” being the pick, before the set concluded with another cover, of “Another Girl, Another Planet”, the introduction of which was played with Les Dawson-like precision.
It’s a fun show, and a terrific look through the impressive back catalogue of a great band. With some dodgy cover versions thrown in, what’s not to like?
- 1985 Sounds magazine interview: Edwin Pouncey
- 1986 Creem interview with Bill Holdship.
- Both via Rock’s Back Pages.
Takin a Ride
I’m in Trouble
Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
Waitress in the Sky
Kiss Me on the Bus
Achin’ to Be
I’ll Be You
I Will Dare
Dust My Broom
Color Me Impressed
Merry Go Round
Can’t Hardly Wait
Bastards of Young
My Boy Lollipop
Left of the Dial
If Only You Were Lonely
Another Girl, Another Planet