Replacments in Boston give a musical kick in the teeth
With guests the Bristols.
March 22, Opera House.
By DEBBY LEVINSON
TRADITIONALLY, A REPLACEMENTS concert is more of a drinking contest between the band members than an actual musical event. The band used to stagger on stage, drink more during the course of the concert, and then stagger off stage, but in between the music was exuberant, joyous rock and roll, and the audience was rarely disappointed. With the departure of chief partier and guitarist Bob Stinson, the band shaped up somewhat; last year's concert at the Opera House showed stone-cold sober Replacements who sounded as lively and playful as always. Still, for every one of last year's concerts there's one like their 1988 show in Washington, DC during which singer Paul Westerberg was so inebriated he fell down on his back in the middle of the show and, unable to get up, sang the next three songs lying on the stage.
Wednesday night at the Opera House was a return to the Replacements of yore; soon after the band took the stage, it became obvious from Westerberg's slurred words and his clowning with bassist Tommy Stinson that at least half of the band was drunk. Westerberg sometimes forgot lyrics, the band started one song only to cut it off after the first verse ("Nah. We don't feel like playing that," they announced), and there was only the slightest hint that an actual set list existed, but the music was tight and vicious, a musical kick in the teeth. New guitarist Slim Dunlap has helped to keep the Replacements from the sloppiness that marked their earliest, most alcoholic shows. Last year, Dunlap never had time to learn the band's old material before going out on tour; this year, he aped Bob Stinson's fiery, careening solos without showing any of the previous guitarist's dangerous, slightly-over-the-edge personality. Dunlap's own solos were a bit on the cautious side, though, and could have used some of Bob Stinson's spark.
Most of the material was from the Replacements' later albums; 1987's Pleased to Meet Me and the current Don't Tell a Soul drew twelve of the twenty-five or so songs, including an almost rockabilly shuffle on "Asking Me Lies" and a plaintive, longing "I'll Be You," both from Don't Tell a Soul. Most emotionally powerful song of the evening was "The Ledge," dealing with a boy's decision to commit suicide by jumping from a high building and his defiant rejection of all attempts to help him. Westerberg has stated that the song is rooted in his own teenage suicide attempts, and hearing him hoarsely sing "I'm the boy they can't ignore/For the first time in my life I'm sure/All the love they send up high to pledge/Won't reach the ledge," is positively chilling.
Despite songs like "The Ledge" and Let It Be's "Answering Machine" (a vitriolic version of which was performed), the band hasn't forsaken its rowdier material in favor of soul-searching. They raced through their paean to their chief musical icon, "Alex Chilton," and even though Westerberg offered a disclaimer before starting "We'll Inherit the Earth," ("We can't play this one very well," he apologized) the song was livelier than the overproduced, stifled album rendition. They even offered their loose, bluesy "Cruella de Ville," cribbed from the recent Walt Disney collection Stay Awake. The band had the most fun during this song; they are famous for their eccentric covers (everything from the Rolling Stones to Robyn Hitchcock), and no one but the Replacements could dare play a song from 101 Dalmatians in concert and get away with it. Watching Tommy Stinson leaping around the stage in his red and green candy-striped suit was almost as entertaining as listening to the music, but the young bassist is definitely starting to resemble Sid Vicious.
The Bristols, a local all-woman group, opened the show. Unfortunately, it became painfully obvious after the first few songs that they were mediocre musicians trying for a cheap Replacements/Joan Jett imitation. Their music was repetitive, derivative, and ultimately soporific.