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Monday, April 26, 2004

REPLACING 1981 

I saw the Replacements play live once, at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in downtown St. Paul, circa 1988. It sucked.

Well, okay, it didn't quite suck--it was the Replacements, after all--but as I remember the performance, it started too late, ended too soon, and was uninspiring in between. No Bob Stinson, either (first tour without him, I believe). And to top everything off, some moron right behind me kept bellowing "Replacements" with the dogged insistence that only a drunken, slack-jawed rock-concertgoer can muster.

I swore off arena shows then and there. And yes, I realize that the Roy Wilkins, with a seating capacity in the 5,000-6,000 range, barely counts as an arena, but that's just a testament to the strength of my conviction that music and large numbers of people do not mix. It's an oath I've broken only once, for a Nirvana/Breeders show in December 1993, again at the Roy Wilkins (the all-seeing, all-knowing Internet gives you not just Nirvana's set list that night but a transcript of their between-songs chatter, fer cryin' out loud--and you thought blogging was lame!). God smote me instantly for violating my word--while I was listening to Kurt Cobain and Company peel off bon mots like "You know we recorded our record round here, did you know that? Can you see me when I talk?" and "I have a new effects pedal today, it's called the grunge pedal!" someone broke into my house and stole a CD player, a Yamaha classical guitar, and (I still can't figure this one out) a tuxedo.

Thanks to Atomizer, I've now had a glimpse of the real Replacements. The Twin/Tone Records website has put up a gaggle of Quick Time clips from a Replacements gig in September 1981 at the Seventh Street Entry in Minneapolis. The performance is subdued by the standards of Replacements lore--Bob is wearing clothes and not a dress, nobody seems shit-faced, the band plays no half-assed covers of TV-show theme songs--but it crackles with the genially pugnacious energy of the band's Sorry Ma era. And if Bob's little brother Tommy Stinson looks like he's fourteen years old, that's because he was--his fifteenth birthday was still a month away.

Meaning that Tommy is about six weeks younger than I am. In September 1981, while Tommy was jumping up and down with a bass guitar in his hands at the Entry, I was beginning my sophomore year at a high school just a few miles away, my favorite rock group was the Rolling Stones, and I had never heard of the Replacements. I still love the Stones, but let's face it: by 1981 their long slide into pointlessness was already well underway, and the mantle of Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World had slipped off their shoulders and was being fought over ferociously--or better yet, trampled contemptuously--by the 'Mats and others like them. I wasn't with-it enough to know this then, but today, thanks to the wonders of the digital age, I can sit in my living room with my WiFi-equipped laptop and catch a little bit of what I missed. Would that all the mistakes of youth were so easily remedied . . . .

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