My first reaction was unambiguous: Yes! Finally! Only three dates? Denver, Chicago, and Toronto? That’s only 1,500 to 2,200 miles away, maybe I can make it!
Yes, the Replacements, my favorite band ever, are reuniting to headline three dates of the traveling RIOT Festival, 22 years after their last show.
Now look, my favorite band ever is always subject to change depending on the weather and what I had for breakfast. But the Replacements are definitely the most important. They were funny and silly and deeply touching all at the same time, and got to the 15-year old me like no other band has before or since. They showed me that I didn’t have to be able to sing like Robert Plant or play like Jimi Hendrix to make music, which inspired and emboldened me to write songs of my own and play them out. To this day, fronting my 9-piece funk band, I still catch myself sounding more like Paul Westerberg than James Brown.
And oh my god, those lyrics:
I did not look any of those up. They are burned into my brain like a cattle brand.
So am I glad to see that the Replacements are reuniting? Of course. But I am not going to be checking airfares to Chicago or Toronto, and I’m definitely not going to any more outdoor music festivals.
This reunion is only two of the four Replacements: singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson. Original lead guitarist Bob Stinson died in 1995, so he has a good excuse, but drummer Chris Mars is not participating because… well, I don’t know why he’s not participating. He left the band a year before they broke up under acrimonious circumstances, and it seems 22 years has not been long enough to heal those wounds.
I’m sure Paul and Tommy will play the old favorites more than capably, and I’m sure whoever they get to fill in for Chris and Bob — the Replacements’ replacements, har-har — will be more than up to the job. And it’s possible that Chris is cool with Paul and Tommy, but for whatever reason just doesn’t want to hit the road: he did participate in the recent “Songs For Slim” EP, recorded by Paul and Tommy with proceeds to the medical bills of Bob’s replacement, Slim Dunlap, by contributing the cover art and a song he’d recorded by himself and singing some backup vocals on the tunes they recorded — but he did not play drums with the Replacements.
But still, part of me doesn’t feel like it’s a real reunion without him. I had similar feelings when one of my other favorite bands reunited without their bass player, and it got me to thinking about what we want from reunions. We want to hear the songs, obviously, but we can hear the songs anytime, on the old albums, sounding just as great as they always did.
What made the Replacements a great live band was the fact that you, and in fact they, never knew what they were going to do. They hit the stage hammered more often than not and tended to play as many covers — most of which they had never rehearsed before — as their own material, and the fun was in watching them grope their way through standards like “20th Century Boy” or “Hey Good Lookin” or “I’m Eighteen” before ripping into one of their own great songs.
This is a band that hated music videos so much that when their label forced them to make one, this is what they gave them:
More than any band I can think of, the Replacements were in it to please themselves first, and if playing “Summer of ’69” pleased them more than playing “Bastards of Young” on a given night, that’s exactly what they did, success be damned.
So are the 50-year-old Replacements going to do that? I’m guessing not, and I’m not sure I’d want them to. Those tendencies evaporated toward the end of their original run anyway; I saw them in 1990 — hey, at least I saw them — and it was a polished, professional set that I certainly enjoyed but bore little resemblance to the legend. I’m sure these shows will be at least as polished. (I still have the t-shirt, threadbare and full of holes and fragile as tissue paper.)<
The drummer’s absence hurts because I think what we want from a reunion, more than to hear the tunes or see the musicians’ faces, is to know that the spirit that animated those great songs is still alive, and when able-bodied band members are left out, either because they’re not invited or because they say no, it suggests that that spirit is not still there, that a big cash offer persuaded Westerberg to field a band — any band — and get that cash while the getting was good.
But, I don’t think that’s the case here, because the Replacements have been turning down reunion offers for years, and only reformed in order to help their friend Slim, found that the spirit was indeed still there (“We still rock like murder,” Westerberg was quoted as saying at the time of the EP release), and went ahead without their drummer because he’s doing something else. Maybe a statement from him, declaring goodwill and godspeed, would bring us all up from 75% to 100% good feelings about this. (Who the fuck am I kidding — I would/will gladly pay $150 and a handjob if/when they come to New York.)
In any case, I never meant to go on this long (which should be the motto of this space) — I just wanted to link to some great Replacements stuff: