The Replacements are the greatest band that (n)ever was. Chaotic, self destructive, trashy, beautiful, heartbroken and completely brilliant. The only thing that stopped them from being the biggest band in the world was their own compulsions.
This is the band who, when playing hardcore shows in their home state of Minneapolis would refuse to play anything but country jams. This is the band who destroyed the SNL dressing rooms, and played so scrappy that they received a lifetime ban, they got too drunk to play and had a guitarist (the amazing Bob Stinson) die of substance abuse after leaving the band. This is the band who wrote “Bastards Of Young” and “Left Of The Dial”. This is the band who changed the lives of your favourite bands and inspired a generation, and now they’re back, to quote the tour title – by unpopular demand.
Earlier in the month Max and I went to see The Replacements (or ‘Mats to their devoted fanbase) play their first UK show in decades.
The Roundhouse in Camden is huge, and packed. It’s surprisingly positive to see such a multi-generational and cross-sectional audience, parents and kids, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends all crammed into the giant bigtop that stands a convenient corner away from Chalk Farm tube station. When we arrive support band You Am I are playing. “This is the greatest night of our lives,” the singer yells. “We’re here in London supporting our favourite band in the world…we’re in Camden playing with the fuckin’ ‘Mats!!” The crowd yells back in anticipation… I Can’t Hardly Wait. Just after 9pm, the lights go down, and 3000 pairs of hands go up as founding members Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson bound onto the stage followed by current session musicians Dave Minehane on guitar and legendary drummer Josh Freese. Four clicks and the band break into the descending chords of “Takin’ A Ride” this is swiftly followed by “I’m In Trouble” before Tommy steps to the microphone and mumbles something about feeling like he’s in a train tunnel. It makes no sense, and is totally genius.
A couple of more songs and Paul asks for requests. “BLAAAAAACK DIAAAAMOND “shrieks the guy in front of me, mid 40’s, and drunk as hell. “You’d like that wouldn’t you?” Paul replies before leading the band into the scrappiest country jam you’ve ever heard. It’s a total trainwreck. The band stumble through a verse and a half before abruptly stopping. “My bad, I fucked up” Paul says. With another band this would be unprofessional. With the ‘Mats its quintessentially charming. It’s like being in a rehearsal. This is why they’re so well loved. They’re not rock stars – they’re human, fallible and sometimes sketchy; just like everyone else. “Androgynous” is triumphant. No piano live, just some picked chords and a click beat provide the backing to a reverberating singalong. It’s the perfect antidote to a world that still seems stuck in a gender binary that The Replacements so sweetly dissected decades ago – “and we love each other so….androgynous.” Tommy fucks up. Paul chases him around the stage laughing before they hug. It’s utterly endearing. I want to go out for drinks with them afterwards. Me and everyone else.
The entire audience seems to be made of giants. I’m 5ft 8 and bit and standing at side so I can actually see. Normally this would lead to a feeling of disconnection, particularly in such a big space, but not tonight. It feels like a live wire has electrified the room. The woman next to me is losing her mind to “I’ll Be You”, dancing like no one’s watching. It’s cool, everyone else is doing the same thing. I try to take some pictures, they’re awful. I don’t care. I’m in the room and that’s all that matters. Some more scrappy country and a killer slide guitar solo by Paul and then the 6 notes that signify the start of “Can’t Hardly Wait”. It’s probably my favourite song ever, and one I’ve been covering for years. “Bastards of Young” straight after. The room is electric. “Take It It’s Yours” Paul Screams; then all of sudden….”My Boy Lollipop”. It’s a total disconnect, and perfectly sums up the ethos of the band. One moment serious, tight and professional the next, joking and casual as if nothing happened. “Left of The Dial” flows seamlessly into “Alex Chilton”. The noise of the crowd nearly drowns out the bounding drums and screaming guitars. A quick break and then an encore. “Unsatisfied” “Nevermind” and “IOU” are all welcomed with open arms before the band close with a cover of The Only Ones’ “Another Girl, Another Planet”. It’s the perfect ending. It’s weird, misplaced and somehow kinda awkward. In fact it’s just like the ‘Mats, just like me, and just like everyone else I know. You can colour me impressed.
And now, they’ve split up again, as we found out around two days after the show. If you want perfect, don’t bother, you probably won’t get it; but if you love and understand contradictions, than go listen to The Replacements. You might just find your favourite band.
An introduction to The ‘Mats – 10 songs:
Takin’ A Ride
Bastards Of Young
Waitress In The Sky
Left Of The Dial
Can’t Hardly Wait