By Roy Trakin.
The Replacements – Hollywood Palladium – April 16, 2015
It’s been nearly a quarter century since the last time Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson toured together – a stint kick-started by several festival appearances last year, including a sparsely attended Coachella gig – and this month-long, 12-city jaunt, dubbed, in typical self-effacing ‘Mats fashion, “Back By Unpopular Demand,” marked a welcome return of the adored brat-rockers.
For those who never expected to hear a crowd yell along to the lyrics of “Bastards of Young,” this rather attenuated 70-minute show – after a more-than-satisfying opening set by The John Doe Band that channeled X favorites like “The Have Nots” and “The New World” – proved the once-self-destructive group (rounded out by Dave Minehan on guitar and veteran Josh Freese on drums) have seamlessly incorporated chaos.
The band emerges from a tent pitched on the stage to the Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme song, Charles Gounod’s cheekily playful “ Funeral March of a Marionette ,” before immediately launching into the caterwauling punk energy of “Seen Your Video,” “Takin a Ride,” “Favorite Thing” and “our first ever single, “I’m in Trouble.”
Taking a nod from their raucous past, they interpolated a bit of “Iron Man” into “Kissin’ in Action,” and followed that with “another kissing song,” “Kiss Me on the Bus.” Westerberg ruefully commented, “Tommy said I have no ass in these pants… You don’t need an ass if you are an ass,” before launching into “Nobody,” its big fat crunching chords belying the band’s own mocking underdog status with lyrics for the occasion: “Hips shake to the band for old time’s sake/Now you make your get away/And you’re waving to the stage/But on that last page says/Love nobody nobody nobody.”
Yes, scratch the surface of these punk-rock rebels and Westerberg’s rock ‘n’ roll heart beats beneath, the cynicism now replaced by the sheen of – dare we say it – well-earned professionalism.
“Androgynous” now sports a loping country beat, while the anthemic “I Will Dare” has a jaunty rockabilly spirit.
“Should we do one that’s hard to sing or one that’s really hard to sing,” asks Westerberg, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with an orange fluorescent V, lighting up his first cigarette of the night before “I’ll Be You,” with its sing-along refrain, “You be me for a while/And I’ll be you.”
A T-Rex medley finds Minehan taking the mic for “20th Century Boy” into “Bang a Gong” and ending with the ‘Mats’ own “All Shook Down.” The big power chords of “Anywhere’s Better Than Here” shows the band really is the missing link between Midwestern metal and streamlined punk-rock, while the playful “Waitress in the Sky” has a Stones/Gram Parsons “Wild Horses” country-blues feel.
Westerberg then emerges from the on-stage tent (“We’re camping out a little bit these days,” offers Tommy), blowing harp on the heavy blues “White and Lazy” and the faux blues of the evening’s one new song, a rollicking “Whole Food Blues,” in which Westerberg sings, with tongue firmly in cheek, “I went down to Whole Foods to get me something taste and healthy to eat/But all I got was attitude.”
By the time Jesus rides besides him in “Can’t Hardly Wait,” it’s time for Tommy to break up a fight in the audience and Paul to mock Jagger in Gimme Shelter, calming the crowd at Altamont before the fall in a fake British accent: “Brothers and sisters…”
“Bastards of Young” is next a Ramones/Pistols anthem that segues into a faithful, but delightfully unlikely version of Barbie Gaye’s ‘50s trifle, “My Boy Lollipop,” another nod to the band’s past as an anything-goes cover band. “I Don’t Know” offers the perfect example of the ‘Mats’ lovable loser quality: “Should we give it up (I don’t know)… One foot in the door/The other foot in the gutter/The sweet smell that you adore, yeah/I think I’d rather smother.”
The regular set closes with the noir surf guitars of “Within Your Reach,” a song that goes all the way back to 1983’s Hootenanny album; “I could live without so much/I can die without a clue/Sun keeps risin’ in the west/I keep on wakin’ fully confused.” The college radio anthem, “Left of the Dial” and a rousing “Alex Chilton” has us screaming along to the words, a plea for cult artists the world over: “Children by the millions sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ‘round…. I’m in love with that song.”
The band finishes with “Never Mind,” as Westerberg ruefully puts a capper on the evening: “All over but the shouting, just a waste of time/And I suppose your guess is more or less as bad as mine.” I’m still in love… with this band.