When I heard the news I was filled with mixed emotions. The Replacements, one of my favorite all-time bands, are reuniting. They'll play the Riot Fest in Chicago (September 13th through 15th), Toronto (August 24th and 25th) and Denver (September 21st and 22nd).
It's nice that their reunion came about organically, with singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson (of Guns N' Roses fame) joining forces to record tracks for "Songs for Slim," an EP to benefit former guitarist Slim Dunlap, who had a stroke last year. Drummer Chris Mars contributed a solo track and did the artwork, but didn't play with Westerberg and Stinson and most likely isn't part of the reunion.
While I'm pleased as punch to hear the news, I doubt they can recapture that ol' reckless magic that made them one of the most powerful rock bands ever. You never knew which 'Mats would show up. They could change your life with mind-blowing performances or disappoint you by their sheer stubbornness. Unwilling to simply play the same set every night and conform to the rules of rock, they'd often breakdown into a series of unrehearsed covers (yes, including Tom Petty's "Breakdown") and switch instruments. (For proof listen to "The Sh*t Hits The Fans"). They could be a train wreck, but like a train wreck, you couldn't look away, you wanted to find out what the heck was happening and how it would all end.
For those who don't have a clue who they were, check out their infamous January 18, 1986 performance on "Saturday Night Live." Sure, they appeared drunk on stage, ripping through "Bastards of Young" and switched clothes for the second song. Yet the real shenanigans happened backstage, where they reportedly destroyed their dressing room and pooped in an ice bucket, leaving "SNL" no choice but to ban them from the show. I know, it's only rock 'n' roll, but it's disgusting!
I was lucky enough to get into the band fairly early on. No, I wasn't there from the beginning, or even witnessed their first L.A. gig, but I saw them about a dozen times. Not to get all Barbra Streisand on you, but here are some of my memories.
First, I must explain my entry point. Like a lot of bands I discovered in the early '80s, I got into the Replacements through reading their press and what their peers were saying. I was a big R.E.M. fan and read that Peter Buck was featured on "I Will Dare," a 12-inch single of a track from the 'Mats then-forthcoming landmark third album, "Let It Be." I bought the sucker and was immediately hooked. I had all the ingredients. Paul Westerberg's longing, punky pleas of "How young are you? / How old am I? Let's count the rings / around my eyes," jangly guitars and an unforgettable melody. A classic single, but the real revelation was on the flip side, which had a rip-roaring cover of T. Rex's glam rock classic "20th Century Boy" and loose-as-a goose version of Hank Williams' "Hey Good Lookin." I got "Let It Be" upon its release, went back and picked up the first two albums and EP and was sure to catch them every chance I could.
Club Lingerie, Hollywood, Oct. 26, 1984
My first Replacements show. To be honest, I don't remember specifics, but I know I was absolutely blown away. If memory serves me correctly, the band played it fairly straight and blew our faces off with a set of pure rock 'n' roll genius at this late great Hollywood nightspot. Original guitarist Bob Stinson was still in the band. Tommy Stinson was young and jumped around the stage like a true rock 'n' roll animal. As I write this, I just stumbled upon a recording of the whole dang enchilada on YouTube (posted by bobstinsonsghost, no less) and got goose bumps as the band went from "Color Me Impressed" to T. Rex's "Baby Strange" then teared up a bit when they went into "Unsatisfied." Guess you had to be there, but even in the audio-only YouTube recording, the power is palpable. I saw some great shows at the Lingerie, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers one New Year's Eve, and Mazzy Star-forerunner Opal, with a guest vocal by Michael Stipe, as Peter Buck watched from the audience telling some clueless girl, "No, I don't think he's in R.E.M." Yet, this Replacements show was the best.
Al's Bar, Los Angeles, Nov. 11, 1984 or April 23, 1985
This was a long time ago, so I'm not sure of the specific date. I found them on the Internet and can't guarantee they're correct, but I do remember seeing them at this legendary downtown L.A. punk rock dive bar. It was loose and sloppy. I was close to the stage, near Bob Stinson. One-time Black Flag frontman, then-Circle Jerks vocalist, and current Off/Flag frontman Keith Morris was sitting on stage at Bob's feet, pounding on Bob's Converse All Stars with his fists as Bob played. Bob had a sh-t-eating grin on his face and played on.
The Palomino, North Hollywood, April 24, 1985
The legendary country music club in North Hollywood, Calif. played host to such legends as Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, and yes, the Replacements. It was a sloppy, covers-laden affair notable on a personal level for the five minutes or less when my friend Wally — who was celebrating his 18th birthday — became the fifth Replacement, singing lead on a disastrous cover of U2's "I Will Follow." For the record, Wally is no Bono, but it was still a kick.
Variety Arts Center, June 28, 1987
The Replacements were well known for their consumption of alcoholic beverages and sometimes they got the best of them, like at this show at the Variety Arts Center in downtown L.A. Decked out in their "Pleased to Meet Me" plaids, everything was going peachy until drummer Chris Mars became just too hammered to play. "Is there a drummer in the house?," Westerberg called out. Tad Hutchinson, from opening band The Young Fresh Fellows, answered the call, and the 'Mats played a typical rough-and-tumble, roller-coaster ride of a show.
UC Irvine, Crawford Hall, May 7, 1989
Sensing the end was near, I trekked from the San Fernando Valley to Irvine to catch the 'Mats while I still could on the tour to support "Don't Tell a Soul." As usual, the 'Mats were mix of sheer brilliance and utter slop, but it was worth the drive. Leaving the gig, I was pulled over by a campus cop who thought I was under the influence. I wasn't drugged or drunk, but I was high on the 'Mats. He let me go with a stern warning.