So here it is, Paul Westerberg And His Only Friends Band. No opening act. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but boy did I come out satisfied.
With a brief run up to the mic and a muttered “What the fuck do you know?” coming from Paul, the night began. The set started off with a few songs I didn’t recognize until “Mr. Rabbit” and “As Far As I Know.” He introduced one of the songs as a Pete Seger cover, and it had something to do with a hammer. The first Replacements song of the night came in the form of “Merry Go Round,” immediately followed by “Someone Take the Wheel.” More than a few lyrics were flubbed. Also they somehow snuck in a quick version of “Rebel Rebel” from David Bowie within the structure of another song.
Eventually, the band got to “High Time.” After that number, Paul left the stage and came back with a TV. He then threw said TV on the stage, then began to beat it senseless with his guitar before breaking it in two. His explanation? “They told us to watch TV while we waited!” he slurred, before starting into a sped-up “Making Me Go” from the Come Feel Me Tremble album. “Valentine” soon followed.
About an hour in, the rest of the band walked off the stage, leaving only Paul and his twelve-string acoustic. A three-song mini-set consisted of “Swinging Party,” “Crackle And Drag,” and one that was apparently a Bob Dylan song. At this point, the drinking began. Paul threatened to not play another note until he got some liquor, and the roadie obliged. After hearing the urban legends of Replacements shows, the audience and I knew that this was about to get much more interesting.
“Knock It Right Out” was perhaps the most flat-out rock and roll song I have ever witnessed. Westerberg grabbed the microphone stand and began to bang it into his guitar. He then got bored with the guitar itself and dispensed of it by throwing it at the roadie who made a spectacular one-handed grab. He the grabbed the stand with one hand and began to stumble around. The mic fell to the ground, and a roadie ran to pick it up, but this didn’t bother Paul one bit. He kept singing into the empty mic stand, confident that the equipment would make its way back. The whiskey sure was doing its job. As I heard the opening notes of “Can’t Hardly Wait,” a feeling of pure joy swept through me that is impossible to put into words. At the bridge of the song, Paul threw the microphone into the crowd and then decided to join it. He put his foot on the barrier, and took a leap into the adoring fans, playing the song all the while.
At this point, no one knew what was coming next. The last thirty minutes of the set was pretty much chaos. I give the band all the credit in the world for keeping up with Paul, because he’d start into multiple songs then just stop on a dime. The ones they managed to get through most of were “I Think I Love You” by David Cassidy, “Cat Scratch Fever” from Ted Nugent, “Substitute” from the Who, and a bluesy number called “Jesus Love Chicago.” I have no idea what the last song of the set was called, but I can tell you that it went on for well over six minutes with almost no intelligible lyrics.
Before starting the encore, Paul came out with a telephone, saying that we had a call. I held my breath thinking he’d play “Answering Machine.” Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be. In five minutes Paul had sobered up just a wee bit and played “Alex Chilton” and “Left Of The Dial” before exiting for good.
I’ve heard stories of how Replacements shows were and everything that made them legendary: the antics, the unpredictability, the drunken swagger. I can safely say that what I saw tonight was an accurate approximation of that. Two hours and twenty minutes of Paul Westerberg And His Only Friends Band was well worth my thirty dollars and the years of waiting. Sure, there were tons of songs I would’ve loved to hear, but I wouldn’t change a single thing about tonight. Excuse me while I go put on “The Shit Hits the Fans” once again.