I’ve got Ed Valauskas to thank/ blame for this one… Given the letter “R” by Letters To Cleo guitarist and all-round good egg “USA” Mike Eisenstein in one of those random Facebook surveys recently, I dutifully nominated a band I love (REM), a band I hate (Rage Against The Machine – I bloody do, check the review from Reading Festival 1993, gig 248), a band I’ve seen (The Ramones) and a band I’d not seen. For this latter I chose recently reformed US alt-rock veterans The Replacements, early 80’s proto-punks turned anthemic alt-rock/ bar room blues merchants turned alt-country groundbreakers, and contemporaries of the aforementioned REM and the brilliant Husker Du on the burgeoning 80’s alternative rock circuit. I also mused on their then-forthcoming London Roundhouse dates, declaring them a real tempter if somewhat of a trek on a school night. However, fellow FB friend and erstwhile Gravel Pit bassist Mr. Valauskas left me a subsequent – and simple – 4 word instruction; “Go See The Mats!”. Far be it from me to argue – I’m off to see the ‘Mats!
As if it were needed, the icing on the cake was revealed the previous day, with splendid Antipodean rockers You Am I announced as support, the first time they’d crossed my path for over a dozen years (gig 591). This necessitated an early start, so I left straight from work, pausing briefly in town to get my weekly comics then hitting the road, parking up at the Bush dead on 6.30 after a tea stop at Heston. One tube trek later, I was at the venue well in time for You Am I’s entrance at 8 (no Jesse Malin tonight; that was just last night apparently…). Led on by slick-quiffed and dapper vocalist Tim Rogers, resplendent in iridescent green jacket and red ribbon tie, like the coolest bingo caller alive, he announced, “this little ol’ band has supported the Stones and The Who but nothing means as much to us as playing with the fucking Replacements tonight!” They were straight “on it” from the off, laying down some dirty and scuzzy blues rock with a swish, a strut and a swagger, The cool harmonies and “whoo-whoo”s of “Mr. Milk” was introduced as “ “Senses Working Overtime” in ‘E’!” which as a Swindonian I appreciated, and the thunderous riffery of “Billy” was a pressures to the irresistibly catchy “Good Mornin’”, You Am I’s brief 90’s flirtation with mainstream success. Rogers, kinetic, windmill-armed and effusive throughout, repeatedly bigged up tonight’s headliners - he related stories of having the lyrics to “Bastards Of Young” pinned on his wall for years, recounted that on first hearing it he dashed out the next day and bought 3 albums by… The Residents (D’oh!) and announced, “you’re in for some gen-you-wine rock and roll tonight!” before their own finest hour, the brilliant and blistering modish strut of “Cathy’s Clown”. After a final “Burning” to cap a splendid set, Rogers left with, “thank you – dreams can come true!” but in all honesty You Am I set the bar pretty high for their idols tonight. Damn fine job, boys!
As the witching hour approached and an anticipatory atmosphere fuelled the rapidly-filling crowd, I kept my spot near the front, stage right, noticing that a PA run-through of The Ramones’ classic “Blitzkrieg Bop”, with its’ “Hey Ho, Let’s Go!” hook, seemed incredibly apposite. This proved the case when The Replacements took the stage at 9 to a rapturous welcome, ploughing immediately into the incendiary punk of “Takin’ A Ride”, reducing this ornate hall into a scuzzy back room bar, sticky beer-spilled floor and all. It was clear from the outset that time had not dimmed this lot’s passion and fire, as they were also “on it” from the outset, not missing a beat with a powerful “Favorite Thing” and a dumbass, Ramones-like “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” despatched in short order. “Here’s one we omitted last night,” announced mainman Paul Westerberg, before the sprawling, anthemic “Little Mascara”, a Springsteen-like highlight amidst all the early Fraggle rock.
Westerberg actually spoke very little tonight, unusually taciturn particularly in comparison to his support’s voluble mainman, addressing the audience only when forgetting some lyrics (a couple of times), preferring to save his 55 year old frame for playing the rock. He removed his zip jacket about half a dozen numbers in to reveal the letters “U” and “T” adorning his t-shirt – apparently this is an ongoing thing throughout the tour, different letters each night purportedly spelling out “I have always loved you, now I must whore my past!” Well, if this was the case, he did so brilliantly tonight, a magnificent, effusive performance of prime rock’n’roll, from touching, finger-picking country (“Kiss Me On The Bus”), balls-out rock (a startling “I Will Dare”) to euphoric, buoyant powerpop (“Color Me Impressed”, taking in a truncated improv cover of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” which deconstructed the cheesy disco classic into a sleazy rocker). This was received with acclaim by tonight’s devotional crowd, creating a celebratory atmosphere throughout.
“Once again the stage kicks Paul’s ass,” he declared before the chugging, call and response vocals of “I Don’t Know”, then after a big, brassy “Can’t Hardly Wait”, the highlight; “Bastards Of Young” was utterly magnificent, raising this old engine shed roof with an all-inclusive singalong of the massive, anthemic hook, the tumbling denouement morphing into a few lines of no less than “My Boy Lollypop”! . Wow. Just… wow.
A solo encore “Skyway” led into a final magnificent double whammy of “Left Of The Dial” and their signature number, “Alex Chilton”, the best song The Hold Steady never wrote, to end a quite awesome performance. We had a final “thank you very very much!” greeting from a clearly elated Westerberg and his bandmates, who’d backed him up superbly with a tight, thrilling showing. That wasn’t it, though, as a very kind steward sorted me with a set-list, which I showed round and chatted to fellow punters down the front; then, after catching my breath, I ran into Declan from Midway Still for a chat before hitting the merch and heading out of the venue, which was cool. And then (!), wandering down the side of the venue to the tube, I spotted the You Am I guys hanging out behind a gated area, and got them to sign my set-list, also sharing anecdotes with affable drummer Rusty Hopkinson! A brilliant bookend to a fantastic night of rock, which made the hour tube ride back to the car fly by, and the 1.15 a.m. home time utterly worthwhile. I was a little late to the wild and wonderful world of The Replacements, bringing them into my musical fold after hearing Westerberg’s solo material in the 90’s, but I’m really glad I made the effort to catch them tonight. A couple of bands growing old disgracefully tonight, and for me there’s no other way to be. The epitome of rock’n’roll; thanks for the push Ed!