It's important to note that The Replacements reunion could've been a disaster, and not the kind of shambolic splendor that the Minnesota legends used to thrive off of. When they were perpetually drunk underdogs tossing out half-assed covers and barely recognizable versions of their own material, they were confrontational, unpredictable and endearing. It's what made them one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
However, the thought of half of the original lineup getting back together in middle age to drunkenly run through their signature songs at festivals where they're the token legacy act is... not quite as endearing. But gradually, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson's onstage revival of their inimitable catalog has proved itself to be one of the most rewarding surprises of the last few years. Their songs still hold up, the pair still have their goofy, deprecating sense of humor, and most importantly, they only have the bare minimum amount of their shit together. As they launched their first proper tour in 24 years at the Paramount Theatre, the band spent two hours running through every era of the Westerberg songbook with equal parts charisma and chaos.
Opening the night was Seattle's Young Fresh Fellows, who supported the 'Mats at their infamously disastrous Portland gig in 1987. This set went a little better. (Although, to be fair, most gigs go better than the 'Mats 1987 West Coast run.) Band leader Scott McCaughey, a Pacific Northwestern staple who just played the Neptune last month as part of the Minus 5, and company were in fine form, cracking jokes with each other in between songs and launching into songs with little or no warning. (For a band that's only sporadically active, they're an incredibly tight musical unit.) Although the 'Mats have a wide variety of openers on this tour (everyone from Superchunk to Together Pangea), none are going to come as close to matching the spirit of the band as the Young Fresh Fellows – even if another group bewilderingly opts to put a cymbal and a trashcan lid on a PVC pipe into their drum kit.
Unlike the band's first run, the direction of the night isn't decided by the band's sobriety but rather Westerberg's (perhaps alcohol-induced) whimsy, which means that the band is being led by the most unpredictable and unrehearsed guy onstage. (Although Stinson has been active as the bassist of Guns N' Roses for over 15 years, and new additions Josh Freese and Dave Minehan have stayed active in the last decade, Westerberg hadn't played live since 2005 and still hasn't released any new music since 2009.) Fortunately, the other three band members' professionalism allows Westerberg to indulge his every impulse and the shows have been all the better because of it. When Westerberg forgot a lyric – or just couldn't be bothered to sing – Minehan, who still looks like the world's biggest Replacements fan onstage, stepped up to take over the mic. Likewise, Freese, an consistently in-demand live and studio musician, and Stinson were just as locked-in, turning on a dime to follow Westerberg wherever he went, whether it was a T. Rex cover medley or two bars of Chuck Berry's Maybelline (apparently Westerberg could only be bothered for those two). So when Westerberg decided to quit playing and lay down in a camping tent (?) before reciting Greil Marcus (??) before starting "Androgynous", his bandmates were ready to go into the Let It Be classic. But, since this is the Replacements we're talking about, Westerberg's shenanigans were undeniably charming instead of grating. Every "fuck it" muttered in place of a lyric or playful jab at Stinson was delivered with a self-aware smirk. When he sarcastically asked the crowd if there were any requests – none of which he was even going to think about obliging – it was just another example of how Westerberg continues to screw with his audiences 30+ years on.
Speaking of song requests, they would have been a moot point, because the night's lengthy, deep setlist did a better job of covering all of the 'Mats musical output than any superfan's mock-up could've ever done. Six songs from Pleased To Meet Me. The first performances of "Seen Your Video" and "Sixteen Blue" in decades. A cover of "My Boy Lollipop". Across two hours, they did as good of a job as they could covering their catalog in just under two hours while throwing in whatever else came to mind. The only part of the night that seemed even remotely hinged was when Westerberg strapped on an acoustic guitar to play a few songs. For those few moments, the detached joker who'd dominated the stage was sidelined, and the underdog poet who bared his soul on "Skyway", "Bastards of Young", and "Can't Hardly Wait" reemerged. Because as detached as Westerberg may have seemed on that night, and the other reunion shows, it's clear that he's throwing everything he's got into this. As his sobering, maybe-tearful performance of "Unsatisfied" at the band's hometown show last summer proved, Westerberg has been taking these shows seriously. Watching an older, probably not wiser Westerberg pick at an also-older, but still little brother-figure, Tommy Stinson while supported by Westerberg's longtime sidemen may not be the same Replacements as the ones who got kicked out of 30 Rock or played all-covers sets to hostile audiences. They are, however, better than anyone – Westerberg included, probably – could have hoped for, and as Westerberg's three biggest supporters walk alongside him as he revives his past glories, The Replacements don't seem like a legacy act or a pale imitation. For the first time since the mid-80s, the Replacements seem like a tight-knit, intimidatingly cool, completely unfuckwithable gang.
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