REAL GONE GOES OUT: The Replacements, Roundhouse, London 2/6/15

The Replacements broke up in 1991.  During their lifetime, they became one of the world’s greatest cult bands, gaining a legion of loyal fans, the actor Matt Dillon among them.  Following the split, bassist Tommy Stinson embarked on an interesting career, as frontman of his own bands Bash & Pop (whose sole album ‘Friday Night Is Killing Me’ an essential listen for ‘Mats devotees), and Perfect, maker of solo records and as a touring member of Soul Asylum.  Rather unbelievably, he’s also been a member of Guns N’ Roses – an odd move, certainly, but one Stinson has previously claimed pays well.  Guitarist/vocalist Paul Westerberg released a string of excellent solo recordings, some of a rather lo-fi persuasion, but always showing the songwriter’s gift for a lyric.  In a move that pretty much no fans ever expected, Westerberg and Stinson reunited in 2012 as The Replacements, played their own live shows and appeared at festivals across the US.

In 2015, the even more unexpected occurred when The ’Mats announced gigs in the UK.  For some fans this would be a great opportunity for revisiting their youth, but for many – and certainly for a huge part of the audience present at The Roundhouse on June 2nd – their first live experience of the band. A proper bucket list job.

As usual, the balcony in The Roundhouse is cold, the circular main space largely uninviting.  The almost steampunk style of the building looks cool, but it’s possibly one of the more impersonal venues.  Thankfully, by the time the evening’s first support act takes the stage, things have started to warm up a little. Jesse Malin – previously a member of D-Generation and The Finger (the latter a project co-helmed by Ryan Adams – is set to kick things off in good style.  Seemingly lasting about twenty minutes, the cult musician’s set displays a broad range of musical styles, from straight up rock to a little folk-punk and more besides, and is well-liked by the relatively sparse crowd who clearly get what he’s about.  There’s no choreographed element to the performance; he staggers back and forth across the stage hammering his guitar, while Catherine Popper (previously of Adams’s own Cardinals) provides a meaty bass anchor.  Tunes from his current release ‘New York After The War’ have plenty of chops, despite the venue’s sound resembling a giant echoing dustbin, and finishing with a cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Sally Can’t Dance’ shows off a key influence as it brings the all too short set to a close.

More of Malin’s friendly style would have been preferable to having to endure forty minutes with Australia’s You Am I, who are set to entertain the by now swelling crowd.  Dressed in a lurid emerald green jacket and pointy shoes, frontman Tim Rogers could be accused of over-compensating, while the other three members appear to resemble faceless henchmen.  A hugely popular band on their home turf, YAI are largely unknown in the UK.  This may account for the lukewarm response they receive, even in comparison to Malin.  The first few songs fly past with relative gusto, with Rogers making a few off-the-cuff remarks that don’t greet the audience in the way he clearly intends.  From here, it’s a downhill slide, as the band’s trashy rock music – the best moments sounding like a third rate version of the night’s headliners – becomes increasingly formulaic.  The crowd aren’t buying it and show their indifference by polite applause at best. One song mid-set appears to gain no response whatsoever; You Am I bravely soldier on knowing the evening’s a washout for them.  As the minutes pass, Rogers appears ever more exasperated – shouting the f-word before a few of his guitar solos, presumably to convey energy, but if this is meant to gee up the indifferent crowd, it really isn’t working.  Before launching into their last number, Rogers faces the audience and tells us that You Am I “are a little band from Australia who sometimes overdress”, before shrugging his shoulders in the manner of a man who knows he’s beaten.  Telling the crowd that “The Replacements are [his] favourite band and it’s an honour to support them…sometimes dreams come true” predictably earns the biggest cheer.  You Am I then soldier through their last number, so obviously just wanting to leave.  With that, Rogers tells us to “enjoy the fucking Replacements” and there’s a feeling that he’s not trying to excite us with regard to the long-overdue and imminent return of Westerberg and Stinson to a London stage, but just sniping rather bitterly.

At just after 9pm, the house lights dim and The Trashmen’s ‘Surfin Bird’ is cranked over our heads.  It’s finally happening…that thing, that connection with The ’Mats that most of us had long assumed would never happen.  Stinson saunters from the shadows at stage left; Westerberg, meanwhile, careens onto the stage in a fairly uncontrolled manner from stage right, looking as if he’s just going to run past his allotted spot by the mic stand and straight out the other side…thank you and goodnight!  Throughout the dates leading up to this point, Westerberg has had different letters scrawled upon his shirt and on this occasion, he’s wearing a scruffy white shirt with a big letter S scrawled upon the rear.  To those who aren’t paying attention this may seem merely quirky; for the hardcore fans, it quickly became obvious that he was slowly spelling out a message for them. Conspiracy theorists believe that Paul’s message is leading to the end of the ’Mats reunion…and they could be right.   Without acknowledging the crowd, the band break into ‘Takin’ A Ride’, swiftly followed by ‘I’m In Trouble’ and ‘Favourite Thing’, a trilogy of punky tunes that hits in quick succession, signifying the beginning of a hugely spirited performance.  The more unexpected ‘Tommy Gets His Tonsils’ out keeps up the momentum, but doesn’t seem to engage all but the more committed fan, before ‘Valentine’ marks the arrival of something a touch more melodic.

Right now, parts of the crowd are up for anything, but a sloppy rendition of ‘Waitress In The Sky’ and a cover of Leon Payne’s ‘Lost Highway’ – all drawling country influences and tapping into the ’Mats fairly carefree approach to performance both miss the mark a little. The band were always notorious for uneven performances, but we’re hoping they’ve not burned out ridiculously early on this occasion.  Thankfully, this is not the case and the classic ‘Kiss Me On The Bus’ sets momentum rolling once more, with plenty of user-friendly jangle.  While the early, rawer albums played a huge part in gaining a cult audience, it’s the last four Replacements discs [Tim, Pleased to Meet Me, Don’t Tell a Soul and All Shook Down] which absolutely deliver in terms of songs and this great performance is testament to that great songwriting.  Asking the audience what they want to hear, Westerberg then ignores all hecklers until they “shout for something on the setlist”, before a spontaneous run through of ‘Talent Show’ – although coming to an abrupt and sloppy end – is given a huge cheer. It seems there are a lot of fans who still love those major label albums, despite – or perhaps wholly because of their more commercial edge.   This marks the start of some brilliant takes on latter day material; ‘Achin’ To Be’, ‘I’ll Be You’ and ‘Androgynous’ sounding fine, the band and audience clearly enjoying every moment. After another heckler calls for Kiss’ ‘Black Diamond’ [as recorded by The Replacements on 1984’s Let It Be], Westerberg responds by leading all into a raucous cover of Elmore James’s ‘Dust My Broom’, which goes down fairly well, as does Chuck Berry’s ‘Maybelline’ a little later.

The opening chords of the classic ‘I Will Dare’ ensure that far more of the audience starts to come alive, the pockets of bouncing figures finally becoming a sprawling mass and ‘Merry Go Round’ sounds as fine as it ever did, ‘Color Me Impressed’ continues to thrill and the punky ‘Wake Up’ shakes the audience further.  More music than banter, the run of great songs continues apace – Westerberg clearly plays the opening chord of ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ before switching to something else entirely, but sure enough, that most famous of ’Mats tunes soon makes its appearance and the audience sing heartily.  Closing the main set ‘Bastards of Young’ whips the front rows into a shouting mass before the band medley it with ‘My Boy Lollipop’ (yes, really!) and the classics ‘Left of the Dial’ and ‘Alex Chilton’ sound as evergreen as any alt-rock of the era.  It’s such a pleasure to hear these belted out with gusto and so brings the main set to a rousing climax.

Having played so many of their well-known tunes, the encore initially seems a little flat, with Paul performing solo for the bulk of ‘Only You Were Lonely’. ‘Satisfied’ and ‘Never Mind’ fill time before ‘IOU’ (arguably a tune that best represents the Replacements best sounds – hugely energetic, but with a jangly user friendliness that could have only been spawned by the Minneapolis scene) rattles the entire building.   As if this is the end – sadly, even the greatest shows can’t go on forever – Paul faces the audience and asks if we have buses to catch, before asking everyone to “get outta here”.  A cover of The Only Ones’ ‘Another Girl Another Planet’ suggests that this is really the end…and as the band leaves the stage and the house lights rise, there are audible boos from the crowd.  For most, if not all, this has been a great night, the realisation of many a fans’ dream.

It has been thrilling to experience Paul, Tommy and their replacement Replacements Josh Freese and Dave Minehan in full flow.  Should it happen again after this tour comes to a close, we’ll all be there…but it’s likely that for most of us, this was the one-shot deal, and for the band, it’ll be time to splinter back to their “regular” gigs.   A great gig indeed and one that will undoubtedly make those much loved albums sound even better.

June 2015