Forest Hills Tennis Stadium – Friday, September 19th, 2014
by John Bastone
Before I start my review of the show, for purposes of full disclosure, I should first say I love The Replacements. Next to those four loveable moptops from Liverpool, they’re my favorite band of all time. So, going into it, whether I was going to enjoy this show was not in question. It was only a matter of degrees.
The Replacements are not necessarily a household name but, for those in the know, are a pretty polarizing group. Most people don’t respond with a ‘They’re OK’, when asked their opinion. Most of the time, people fall into 1 of 2 camps. You either think The Replacements are the greatest band ever, who didn’t hit the big time, or you think they’re the most over achieving bar band that ever lived. Even though my opinion is firmly in the first camp, I am objective enough to accept the truth is likely somewhere that is not at either pole. Butone thing is for certain. No bar band I ever heard had a songwriter that could match the poetry and the poignancy of Paul Westerberg.
I tell friends all the time that, when I was younger, I always wished all my favorite groups would get back together. But, as I’ve grown older, I more often wish that they never get back together. With rare exception, it’s just an obvious losing battle on so many different levels. The Replacements show seems to be such an exception. Maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that when the band was active, and the material was fresh, Westerberg always seemed to shy away from his obvious talents when taking the show out on the road. Whether it was his lack of self confidence, a fear of success, or something else, I couldn’t tell you. He was often criticised for changing or even forgetting lyrics to his own songs. Being flippant and aloof with the material was the order of the day. But I would argue that beneath the exterior lied a guy who had different sets of lyrics to all his songs because he lay awake at night striving to come up with the perfrect ones. Tales of The Replacements drunken, fucked up exploits are legendary. Stopping and starting songs, playing only parts of songs, roadies having to fill in for members who were too damaged to go on, playing more covers than originals at many shows (sometimes ridiculous ones. I saw them do ‘Whipping Post’ at The Beacon Theater), etc, were all par for the course. When I saw them in 1986, the song the band was tightest on and seemed to have the most respect for was ‘Black Diamond’, a cover of a Kiss song. What made the show I saw this past Friday so great and so special for those who were there back in the day was that, for the first time, Paul seemed to be really embracing his work in a way that we’ve never seen him previously. I’m quite certain it helps serve as some sort of vindication for us and for him.
The show started off with ‘Favorite Thing’, from ‘Let it Be’ and we were off and running from there. We had heard from fans who had seen the show elsewhere and, also, seen the set lists online. This was a show that was heavy on revisiting the bands early days and, even though we heard plenty of stuff from the later years, was not quite as focused on the major label recordings. ‘Color Me Impressed’, ‘Tommy gets his Tonsils Out’, ‘Take Me Down to the Hospital’, ‘Androgynous’, ‘White and Lazy’, ‘Takin’ a Ride’, ‘Don’t Ask Why’. ‘I’m in Trouble’, were among the tracks that had the diehards wowed. Even more surprising was the airing of back to back B sides, ‘Nowhere is My Home’ and ‘If Only You were Lonely’. (‘Lonely’, and ‘Waitress in the Sky’ were the 2 points of the evening where the crowd sang along. The fact that the crowd sang along to all the words of a B side tells you something about the place these guys hold in the hearts of their fans). There was a short cover of The Jackson Five’s, ‘I Want You Back’, and one of the nights highlights was the other cover, Chuck Berry’s, ‘Maybeline’, which was worked up in a Medley with ‘Love you til Friday’. Another surprise was a stellar version of ‘Love you in the Fall’, a track that Paul did a few years back for the childrens movie ‘Open Season’, that Tommy had played on. Throw in some of the more obvious later tracks, ‘Kiss Me on the Bus’, ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’, ‘Achin’ To Be’, “Talent Show’, ‘Left of the Dial’, ‘Alex Chilton’ and a few others and you’ve had yourself a great little show. Tommy Stinson was in fine form and his high spirit was obvious. The ‘replacement’ players on guitar (Dave Minehan) and drums (the awesome Josh Freese) certainly helped make this, by far, the tightest Replacements show I ever saw. The encore of ‘Unsatisfied’, a song that I think could have worked as an anthem at a different time, or in an alternate universe, was a great way to finish, just past the venues 10 PM curfew.
The reality of the situation is that The Replacements are almost certainly another in the great line of bands who would’ve been mis-timed in whatever era they appeared in. It’s underdog music for underdogs. Let’s just be glad they had their day and we have these songs. And thanks for coming around and, for once, showing the fans that the songs might mean as much to you as they mean to us. Come again and/or make some new music, but ‘if I don’t see you again for a long, long while, I’ll try to find you Left of the Dial’.