Hi there. Let me start out this entry by stating a fact that's probably already known to 95% of the people who read this blog: I LOVE THE REPLACEMENTS. On my list of favorite bands of all time, they usually rank #2 (behind Husker Du) and are never not in the Top 5. Last night, I played a bunch of Replacements songs on guitar in a garage during a thunderstorm, including one ("Heyday") that I'm not sure I ever played before. I can do this because I've listened to the music so much that the songs are now permanently ingrained in my brain. It's similar to the Ramones, Tom Petty, the Huskers (of course)... stuff like that.
I went and saw Tommy Stinson at First Avenue on Friday night. The first thing I need to say is that it was a good show, and the band sounded great! Now on to the funny stuff...
It's strange to see such an iconic dude like Tommy backed by... well, backed by two good friends of mine from Milwaukee (Tim Schweiger and Jon Phillip), and Mike Gent from the Figgs (a great band you all should check out if you haven't yet) with whom I'm on a first name basis (although he still thinks I live in Green Bay). It's strange. And cool! I felt so proud of Tim (guitar) and Jon (drums), and even though Paul Westerberg didn't end up joining the party for a song as had been rumored - hey, it was raining, so he probably just stayed in his hole in Edina - I could imagine that Tim and Jon were on cloud nine for sure,if they weren't too nervous! Tim's a worrywart. But he did fine.
Tommy Stinson's fiancee (her name escapes me) was also onstage singing and playing miscellaneous percussion, making the band a five piece. So, there they were, rocking and rolling and playing cool tunes. Naturally, they played "Friday Night Is Killing Me" off Tommy's first post-Replacements album of the same name from his old band Bash'n'Pop. They didn't play my other two favorites off that album, though - no "Fast and Hard," and no "Never Aim To Please." Ya know, those two songs SMOKE. Jon Hands-on always maintained that Tommy solo was better than Paul solo. I probably don't agree, but there's no doubt that Tommy's post-Mats output has a little more fire and energy than Paul's.
There was a drunk idiot at the show. I estimate that around 500 people were there to see Tommy (and/or the opening acts), and one blacked-out zombie somehow managed to piss off nearly all of them. After Tommy's eighth or ninth song, this guy threw an empty can onstage. Here's how Tommy responded, as I can best recall:
"Well now we know who wins the doofus of the week award. What is this, your first fucking concert? Throw something else onstage, and I'll fucking leave."
Wow. I looked at my pals Lucas and Amy (who incidentally have a baby on the way, and apparently they're trying to expose the kid to "good rock vibrations" as often as possible - good for them!), and you know how people sometimes say the word "awkward" in that cadence where "awk" is high-pitched, and then there's a slight pause, and then "ward" is a lower pitch and drawn out, like "whirrrrrrred"? The look the three of us exchanged was the visual equivalent of saying "awkward" like that. Tommy Stinson - EX-REPLACEMENT TOMMY STINSON - threw a tantrum because some drunk threw a can or bottle onstage?
This brings me to my next point. It's a difficult thing to front a band. I'm still figuring out how to do it. There are, in my opinion, three schools of band fronting, with many subschools of course, but they all boil down to one of these three frontman styles:
1. The Master Of Ceremonies. This emcee-style frontman interacts with the audience via snappy banter and clever antics. This can be annoyingly corny if taken too far, but done right, the Master Of Ceremonies commands the room and makes the crowd laugh, cry, oooh and/or ahhh as the situation requires. Examples of people who are excellent at being The Master Of Ceremonies are Bruce Springsteen, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and Ben "In Defence" Crew.
2. The Artist. Scowling, intense, The Artist virtually ignores the audience entirely (except possibly to scold them for being insufficiently scowling and intense as well) and is purely focused on sacrificing 110% of his/her mind, body, and soul on the altar of their performance and art. Sometimes The Artist takes themself so seriously that they're a joke, but make no mistake: if the frontman of a band does The Artist right, their catharsis is projected throughout the room like a telepathic explosion, and you WILL be rocked. Examples of The Artist done right are Fugazi, Husker Du (in particular Bob Mould, although he hasn't been The Artist for a decade now), and the Velvet Underground.
3. The Average Joe (or Jolene). Wait, what? Somebody gave me this guitar and put a microphone on a stand in front of me? Ha, well, ok! Stranger things have happened! Let's have some fun! The Average Joe is just like you and me, except they happen to be playing the show right now. No planned routines, no dour self-seriousness, maybe not even a planned setlist. There is NO pretention here, just some songs being played and drink tickets being used. The Average Joe can be a drag between songs, and occasionally really boring while performing them, but if they and their band have a good sense of humor and take the actual MUSIC as seriously as they don't take themselves, then the audience/performer barrier is shattered and everyone feels great about it. The Average Joes that I know include Tom Petty, the Dillinger Four, and the Ergs!.
Tommy Stinson falls firmly into the Average Joe category of frontman, and I would not say that he is anywhere near the equal of the three examples of good Average Joe frontman-ing that I provided. His banter included gems like "A whole bunch of people gave me some jokes to tell, but I forgot them all," and "I'm going to play a bunch of new songs. I guess you guys are the test market." That last one reads much better than it sounded live, by the way. And it didn't help that Mike Gent of the Figgs, standing eight feet away from Tommy is a GREAT Average Joe frontman who can pull off The Master Of Ceremonies too when required.
Later, I heard that he was very stressed out and tired from a long day and in particular a 2-hour spot on local indie radio station The Current, and that he felt like he was losing his voice, too (he sounded fine). Nevertheless, I have to go way out on a limb and risk being called a hypocrite here, and state: he should've let the music do the talking. In his defense, he did take requests, and seemed to loosen up as the night went along.
At one point, Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum's main dude) came out onstage, smashed a guitar, smashed another guitar, and sang "My Generation" while the band did an admirable job of stumbling through the cover. That was the liveliest moment of the night for sure! Dave Hause (the Loved Ones) had opened the show, and came out for a few backups on that tune as well. That was quite a collection of onstage talent! I'm not sure the grumpy old man who was noticeably absent would've fit. I've seen Paul live, and I came away slightly unimpressed.
This, by the way, is why I don't like to go see the shows of old guys from bands I'm too young to have seen play. I always build it up too much in my mind, expecting something that I hear and see in my head when I listen to their great, classic records. It never works out that way (except, oddly, for when I saw Bob Mould solo acoustic in Milwaukee - he was The Average Joe between songs, but holy smokes was he The Artist while playing and singing! Sooooo intense!).
Anyway, once the show was over and the lights came on, I wandered over to where Tim and Jon were hanging, to shoot the shit a little. Tim talked about wanting to tour more, but he was kind of despairing as to his "draw" outside of eastern Wisconsin. I think he's really good, you readers should look up Tim Schweiger and The Middle Men and see for yourself. Also, his old bands (The Obsoletes, and Yesterday's Kids) were absolutely great. Maybe I'll see if he wants to do a two-headed tour with me sometime. I told Tim I was probably splitting downtown, but that he should text me if he wanted to get a drink away from First Avenue. He said he would.
I walked out, and intended to walk to my car and split downtown indeed, but then I looked in The Depot (the bar next door to 7th St Entry) and my taste buds began tickling for a pale ale. I walked in, ordered a Summit, and sat down to watch baseball highlights and wait and see if Tim was gonna come out and meet me. He didn't. So I finished my beer, admired Prince Fielder's amazing 450-foot walkoff homerun a few times, and went home.