Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Year Ago Today, The Replacements Wholeheartedly Whored Their Past On Fallon

year ago today, on what was my 45th birthday, I received one of my favorite birthday gifts ever: my favorite band, The Replacements, made their first TV appearance in over two decades when they appeared as the musical guest on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. 

Previously, the acclaimed Minneapolis rock band’s last time on the tube was on the short-lived “International Rock Awards” in 1989 playing a somewhat censored version of their song “Talent Show” (ABC had issues with the line “feeling good from the pills we took”) from their new at the time album Don’t Tell a Soul.

After a decade of being on the brink of success (or 
“suck-cess” as they put it in a song we'll get to in a few paragraphs), The Replacements, or ‘The Mats’ as fans call them, broke up in 1991, but their cult grew larger over the years as their influence spread to new generations of fans, and other bands.

When they re-grouped in 2013 for a trio of headline slots on North American alt-rock road-show Riot Fest, with founding members rhythm guitarist/principal song-writer Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson joined by replacement Replacements drummer Josh Freese and guitarist Dave Minehan, it seemed like it may just be a temporary reunion. You know - play the hits, cash-in, get out. 

But the response to the three concerts was ginormous, with the biggest audiences in the Mats’ entire career so why not extend it, and add a bunch more festivals into the next year? Many fans, like me, had never seen them live before, so it was a major treat to get this chance again.

It was also a lot of fun to follow the coverage, watch the YouTube clips, and bask in the band’s renewed glory as they played to enthusiastic (for the most part) crowds at such fests as Coachella, Shaky Knees, Forecastle, Osheaga, Bumbershoot, and Boston Calling (whew, That’s a lot of fests!) way into 2014.

Then the news came that the band was going to appear on
The Tonight Show on Tuesday September 9th. This promo dropped several days before the broadcast:

This promo calls attention to the last time the Mats performed at 30 Rock on NBC, their infamous two-song appearance on “Saturday Night Live” during their tour promoting their 1985 album Tim that got them in trouble with the network brass back in February, 1986. The Replacements, as scruffy as can be, were introduced by an equally scruffy Harry Dean Stanton, to perform this ferocious version of “Bastards of Young.”

This, in my book or blog, was great rock ‘n roll TV, but because the Mats trashed both their hotel and dressing rooms, and were obviously very drunk on live television – Westerberg yells “C’mon, fucker!” to then guitarist Bob Stinson at one point – producer Lorne Michaels was reportedly extremely unhappy with the band.

Their second song later in the show, “Kiss Me on the Bus,” was also controversial as the band members had switched clothing with each other for an even sloppier look, and it suspiciously sounds like Westerberg sings “Kiss Me on the Butt” for the song's chorus.

Michaels considered this crude lyric change to be a “cheap shot” (according to an interview with Bob Stinson), and the angry producer banned the Replacements from ever appearing on SNL
 again. Years later, when Westerberg appeared on the show to promote his first solo album 14 Songs in 1993, it was said that Michaels didn’t make the connection that his musical guest had been in the banned band until it was too late. 

Longtime SNL mogul Michaels is now also the Executive producer of 
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, but by this point either he’s let bygones be bygones or he’s simply forgotten. Anyway, the news last year that the Mats were going to grace the Peacock’s airwaves was sweetened somewhat surreally by the announcement that Keith Richards, legendary guitarist for the Rolling Stones, was going to be on the show that night too.

The Replacements had opened for Richards, on his birthday (December 18th) incidentally, back in 1988 at the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, and Richards and the Stones’ music was a big influence on the band (Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, and former Mats guitarist Slim Dunlap’s solo music also all has shades of Keef’s dirty brand of rhythm and blues), but despite these connections, and many fanatics’ wishes, the two forces didn’t collaborate on this occasion – Richards was there only to promote his new children’s book “Gus and Me.” They did, however, pose for this picture in the studio’s hallway:

Fallon, only 8 months after taking over as the host of “The Tonight Show,” joked in his monologue when listing the nights guests that “they couldn't clear the rights for any Replacements songs, so theyll be singing ‘All-Star’ by Smashmouth.”

Later in the show, after actress Debra Messing and Richards’ visits, the host displayed a limited edition poster print for one of the Replacements’ upcoming shows, and, with his trademark enthusiasm, told the audience that his next guests are “a massively beloved and influential rock band in the midst of their first tour since 1991,” plugged their Forest Hills gig on September 19th, and introduced the band to thunderous applause:

As you can see, The Mats, older but still somewhat scruffy, bashed out an incredibly rousing rendition of one of their best songs, “Alex Chilton,” from their 1986 classic Pleased To Meet Me. The choice was perfect as the song dreams about a world in which the late, great Box Tops and Big Star front man Alex Chilton is as big as the Beatles (“Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ‘round”); a place where the power pop legend was actually hugely popular.

The song’s invested, clever lyricism, gusto and intense tempo is such that one can believe this world is possible, maybe even within reach. In this moment playing “Alex Chilton” on national TV, it felt like The Mats themselves were finally the Big Stars that they long deserved to be.

For the Mats to be having this moment, long after the flame was supposedly extinguished, and use it to both pay homage to the man who Westerberg claimed was his mentor in his 2010 eulogy for Chilton in the New York Times, and prove that this old band has still got the goods helped make their performance as infectiously invigorating as rock music on TV can get. 

The band wholeheartedly 
nails the song in a version that's largely faithful to the original, but since Westerberg has to always screw around with something, he changed the location of Memphis to New York in one stanza, and in the line “I’m in love with that song” he replaced “with that song” with “Daff-o-dil” for some reason. 

Nine months later, after a sold-out spring tour of the U.S. dubbed the “Back by Unpopular Demand” tour, and some celebrated stops in Europe, The Replacements broke up again. Westerberg made the announcement onstage during their performance at the NOS Primavera Sound festival in Porto, Portugal on June 15th. The news wasn’t a complete surprise as throughout the tour, Westerberg had hinted at it by wearing T-shirts with a different letter on both front and back every night. When put together, the shirts spelled out: “I have always loved you
” on one side, Now I must whore my past” on the other.

He may have had a point about whoring his past since, because except for one throwaway half-assed novelty tune called “Whole Food Blues,” the reunion produced no new music. There were reports that the band had attempted laying down new material in the studio, but couldn’t quite get it together.

If The Replacements had stayed together I had fears that they might become like The Pixies, who re-united in 2004 to play the same songs at live shows for a decade, and when they finally put out some new stuff it wasn’t very good, so maybe this was for the best.

Drummer Freese may have put it best when he posted this on Facebook right after the news: Who would want The Replacements to hang around too long anyways? I sure wouldn't.

Still, I had been hoping that the Mats would strike while the iron was hot and crank out a new record before getting into that rut, but in the end I was happy enough that I got to see them twice - in Chicago in 2013, and Washington D.C. earlier this year - during their two-year, 33-show reunion run. Both shows were among the best live rock shows I’ve ever attended.

The Replacements' appearance on Fallon was a undeniable highlight of their time back in the spotlight. It helped make more folks into fans, while it highly pleased the hardcore. Yet again, it felt like children by the millions were singing for their heroes as they came around, possibly for one last hurrah. If this was indeed simply a case of whoring their past – consider me a satisfied customer.

More later...


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I was fortunate to have seen the 'mats 4 times in their hayday and 2x on the Unpopular Demand tour.

    While I loved the 2015 shows, I wouldnt want them to stick around and become an oldies act. I would much rather see a Tommy solo tour and Paul (with Josh & Dave) on a solo tour.

    I miss Grandpaboy or Mr F or whoever Paul decides he is this time...

  3. But has Lorne Michaels really gotten over it? Did you see the sketch on SNL last season called Mr Westerberg? (even spelled correctly!)
    Not very flattering ...

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