Last Friday night, I was able to cross one of the biggest names off my Concert Bucket List when The Replacements finally returned to Portland after a lengthy absence. It was not a given that I would be able to attend, until I was able to receive a ticket just a few short hours before the show, but the show was worth the entire hassle. It was gloriously imperfect, just like the band themselves.
I was barely alive the last time The Replacements played Portland, when they played a gig at the Pine Street Theater. For a band known for its penchant for self-sabotage that led to wildly chaotic performances, somehow this particular Portland show stuck in the band’s memory so much that the band felt obligated to apologize on numerous occasions, as eloquently told in articles from the Willamette Week and the Daily Emerald. On Friday night, nobody threw a couch out the third story window of the Crystal Ballroom like they did back in ’87, but even with a “more professional” version of The ‘Mats playing, there was always a lingering feeling that the show could devolve into a similar mess.
I am sure that there are many that are hesitant to even call this an “official” reunion, but hearing Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson playing classic songs from legendary records like Let It Be, Tim, and Pleased to Meet Me was more than enough for me and the hundreds of grizzled fans in attendance. One could even argue that it is even more fitting now that The Replacements have replacements stepping in to fill the shoes of departed players Chris Mars and Bob Stinson/Slim Dunlap. Dave Minehan deserves praise for his ability to keep a steady hand on the second guitar, and.Josh Freese was almost a comically overqualified stand-in–though he had only a few moments to show off his impressive skills, he did a great job in driving the beat and following the whims of Paul.
A raucous opening set from old touring mates Young Fresh Fellows helped contribute to the “anything goes” aura of the night, with their costume changes and a free-wheeling style that included a crash cymbal atop a giant spring. As for the headliners, the band blistered through a wild and unpredictable set, hitting tracks across the entirety of their career and tossing in some improvised jams as well as a few impressive covers. Early in the show, the band locked into a bluesy groove and Paul sang about the local Whole Foods; later, the band responded to a flurry of requests with the theme to Green Acres. Not all of their covers were irreverent piss-takes like that–one of the highlights of the night was a T. Rex medley that went from “20th Century Boy” to “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” to the band’s own “All Shook Down.” The band also delivered their apology for their previous failures in person, sneaking in “Portland” into another medley of originals.
Nobody should expect technical perfection from a Replacements show, and there were a few flubs here and there–Paul forgot part of the lyrics to “Little Mascara” and gave up on the ending solo to “Sixteen Blue”, but we were thrilled to simply hear those gems in person. The audience eagerly lapped up some of the band’s greatest “misses”, as Tommy so eloquently put it, though there were the occasional lulls in enthusiasm from the generally older crowd. Yet those moments were soon forgotten when the room came alive to sing, “WE ARE THE SONS OF NOOOOOO ONE: BASTARDS OF YOUNG!” with their idols. The fact that the band could also toss in “Can’t Hardly Wait”, “Left of the Dial”, and “Alex Chilton” was icing on the cake. The Replacements also managed to pull off something that I had never before seen at the Crystal Ballroom, when they played a second encore of “I.O.U.” as the house lights came on.
The Replacements managed to break the Portland “curse” this time; hopefully this will encourage to visit us once again sooner rather than later (and if they could play “Unsatisfied” next time, that would be perfect).
Additional Background: I get around 800 emails a week about concerts in six different states, and for some reason I never received an email alerting me when tickets were on sale for the one show I was desperate to see this year. When I finally found out they had been on sale for a couple of weeks, it was too late. I checked ticket resellers, and for weeks the prices were outrageous. However, the Saturday before the show I heard “I Will Dare” play on the speakers at Fred Meyer while I was doing some grocery shopping, and I took it as a sign to bite the bullet and look for a ticket in earnest. I kept checking prices, and finally gave in late Friday afternoon and attempted to purchase tickets from StubHub. This was nearly a disaster, as the site kept fucking up again and again and again. For a while, I was stuck in a netherworld of “not having an account” and “already having an account” at the same time, and then faced an additional hurdle of simply trying to add in a credit card for payment, all for the privilege of paying 3x face value for a ticket. I firmly believe that services like StubHub are a leech on society, and the fact that they could not create a website that worked as smoothly as goddamn TicketMaster is a true indictment of their shittiness, since TicketMaster is the worst thing that humanity has ever created. If The Replacements themselves got most of the profit from the reselling, I would have less of an issue with this, but this is pure exploitation, no matter what way a free-market acolyte would try to spin it. It is one thing for these services to provide an outlet for someone to unload tickets because they are unable to attend, but the fact that it is easily exploited by assholes damns the entire enterprise. Good work guy in swooping in and picking up a ticket and contributing absolutely nothing to society! I can only say that I hope to never have to relive that experience ever again, though I suspect that it will be the only way to actually see Refused when they play Portland next month.