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.