• 2013

Yearly Archives: 2013

My slight overanalysis of The Replacements reunion tour



I read that the recently ‘reunited’ Replacements might be added to the bill for 2014’s Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival, meaning that their first ever Australian tour could be in the works. My immediate response to this was fuck off, I don’t want to know. Yeah, there’s been a tonne of controversy about the integrity of reunion tours in general, and (probably) the Mats one in particular. Is this really a reunion or is it just two guys from The Replacements and two other guys flogging some old Replacements songs in order to momentarily revive their careers? Their legendary original guitarist, Bob Stinson, has been dead for 18 years, and the two reunited members, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson, admitted they didn’t even ask original drummer Chris Mars to rejoin “because we knew the answer… he’d say no”.  Maybe that’s why despite the initial hype, they’ve kept it pretty low key, only making a handful of North American festival appearances so far.

Whenever I get asked what band I’d like to go back in time and see live, I usually say The Replacements, circa 1984. Back then, their live shows were notorious. You never knew if you were going to get a blistering display of raw energy and emotion that’d leave you bruised and battered and your heart smashed to pieces, or be confronted by a bunch of insolent, drunken punks out to (supposedly) sabotage their own chances of success with wilfully bad performances, bizarre antics, on-stage fights or an endless setlist of inappropriate cover songs. At the time, if you caught them on a shitty night, you’d probably walk away feeling pretty jipped, but in retrospect, their defiant unpredictability was a huge part of the Mats personality cult.

The Replacements captured the disaffection, rage, hope, joy and uncertainty of adolescenthood with a potency few other bands have ever matched, and their best songs are still just as achingly compelling as they were back in the day. The band were the essence of youthful rebellion, and the further away they got from youth, and rebellion, the less interesting they became.

Since they’ve been broken up for so long, there’s a pretty specific sort of mystique surrounding the Replacements. They were almost defined by the sheer volatility of their inter-band relationships and always seemed like the semi-legendary 80s band who would absolutely never get back together. It seemed pointless on so many levels.

So who really wants to see if good old Paul and Tommy can perform the songs they wrote 30 years ago with anything even close to the conviction they did back when both the band, and their audience actually lived those songs? Well, I kind of do. The songs are just too damn good to miss the opportunity to experience them collectively with a room full of people who share the same overwhelming, joyous obsession with them that I do. But on the other hand, once I see them live, the dynamic of fandom has changed forever. A little bit of the yearning, romance and mystery that endears them to me is gone. Plus, there’s a good chance that they might suck. But at least in that regard, The Replacements haven’t really changed a bit.


Old school Replacements goodness. Live in ’81

Footnote: There are a few reviews floating around on the Mats reunion shows so far. Most reports suggest a fittingly semi-professional performance, plenty of good humour all round and super pumped up audiences. I think I might be coming around. But if they don’t make it to Australia, I’m still quite not sure if I’ll be disappointed or relieved.


James Blake – Sydney Opera House 29/7/2013

James Blake live at the Sydney Opera House, 29 July 2013

It’s taken less than four years for James Blake to go from being just some guy DJing in sweaty London nightclubs to playing sold-out concerts at the Sydney Opera House. Taking the stage in the illustrious Concert Hall, we see him not just as a producer, but as a composer, a gifted singer and an extraordinarily accomplished performer.

Listening to Blake’s acclaimed 2011 self-titled debut, it’s difficult to decipher how the record’s ultra-minimalist aesthetic – its choppy beats and distorted vocal samples – could translate effectively to a live format. The unique way that it does is precisely what makes Blake’s live show so enthralling.

There’s a startling, compelling intimacy to James Blake’s music, which concievably, isn’t easily transferred to a large, reasonably impersonal live venue. Where Blake’s Sydney performance triumphed was in his ability to make the cavernous Concert Hall feel infinitely smaller, through nothing more than the captivating sincerity in his soul soaked voice (with perhaps a little extra help from some truly gorgeous stage lighting.)

Blake spent most of the evening hunched and semi-obscured behind a rack of synthesisers. He is politely engaging, humble and soft spoken in between songs. His lack of showmanship, in favour of a quiet, focused intensity only added to the intimate feel of the performance. It’s fascinating to watch Blake’s digital compositions unfold in an organic way, with his vocals being recorded in real time then fed into a continuous loop and layered beneath his live singing to dramatic effect. Deftly working background noise and washes of synth over minimal beats, Blake’s impeccable sense of timing was on full display, combined with the sublime balance between his soaring, gospel-tinged vocals and his skilfully restrained falsetto.

Blake’s prodigiously talented live band, consisting of long-time mates Ben Assister (drums) and Rob McAndrews (samplers, guitar) bring an entirely new dimension to the solo producer’s sound. With Assister’s cutting live drums and McAndrew’s multi-layered bass samples, sparse album tracks are reinvented into something much richer and fuller. During moments where the band would lift songs into a chorus of crescendoing synth chords, plummeting bass lines and out-and-out dance beats, the room would suddenly seem to open out, and you could look around to witness a strobe-washed sea of 2000 fans, bouncing and foot tapping involuntarily in their seats, swept up by the dark, danceable rhythms that define many of Blake’s earlier electronic endeavours.

In between old school tracks like CMYK and Klavierwerke and the throbbing Voyeur off Overgrown, Blake turned to the audience to describe us as “caged birds”. He suggested it was something of a shame we had to stay seated through his festival-friendly, dub-techno jam mid-set, and he was right. Still, there’s something quite satisfying about knowing the Opera House had probably just been subjected to the gnarliest low frequency drops its sound system has ever had to contend with. In fact, the amplified Concert Hall delivered the physical, sub-bass hits of I Never Learnt to Share and Limit to Your Love’s shuddering bottom end beautifully, and this, surprisingly, could count among the best sounding non-classical concerts the Opera House has played host to.

It was at the very end of the night that the true fortuity of seeing James Blake at the Opera House was revealed. He rounded out the set with Once We All Agree, a wistful, delicate ballad generally reserved for the most acoustically pristine venues, followed by his thunderously applauded ‘hit’, Retrograde. As the band departed, the stage crew raced out to lug the Concert Hall’s grand piano to the front of the stage. Blake’s cover of A Case of You has become a much-loved encore, but played on a real piano it’s a rare treat, one that few other venues can afford. At last, our lanky hero emerges from behind the wall of synths,  and his delight in playing a beautiful instrument in such a majestic setting is clearly apparent. Blake’s plaintive croon recalls all the bittersweet yearning of Joni Mitchell’s folk classic, offering an elegantly fitting finish to the night.

While he’s known for his techy production and avant-garde arrangements, Blake’s music, like Ms Mitchell’s, has at its distilled essence, a sense of the soul being laid bare – aching, vulnerable, uncertain and hopeful. Monday’s performance at the Sydney Opera House captured that essence with moving intensity and a mesmerising display of rare talent.