No one threw a couch out a window. No one needed to get stitches. Everyone's clothes stayed on, and the chandelier hanging above the venue floor survived unscathed. But it was still the Replacements—or, at least, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson playing the Replacements, which is good enough for me. And, as much as one could hope or expect in 2015, the show at the Crystal Ballroom on Friday night was everything a Replacements show should be. It was loose. It was indulgent. It was imperfect. It was great.
In their prime, the 'Mats were the Grateful Dead of hot-mess punk bands. Night by night, you never knew what you were going to get, from the setlist or the band's performance. Would you be seeing the greatest rock 'n' roll act in the world, or an embarrassing, drunken disaster? Too often, Portland got the latter, to the point that it became part of the group's legend. By that measurement, this was probably the best version of the Replacements the city's ever experienced. No offense to original member Chris Mars, who's basically retired from music, but the 'Mats never had a drummer as good as Josh Freese, who propelled the opening blitz of "Takin' a Ride" and "Favorite Thing." Throughout the night, he was the steady hand at the wheel, ensuring, for better or worse, that this thing was never going to blow off course, the occasional flubbed lyric or guitar solo notwithstanding.
But if the show never felt out of control, the band didn't play it straight, either. At its heart, the Replacements was always more âbar bandâ than âhardcore band,â with an arsenal of cover tunes in its back pocket and a penchant for deviating from its own script, and even in the midst of a cash-in reunion tour, with two hired hands filling out the lineup, thatâs how it operated here. Three songs in, the group downshifted from the rush of âHanginâ Downtownâ into a bluesy vamp, with Westerbergâlooking, as always, like he just rolled out of bed, in a white T-shirt and what appeared from my vantage point to be grey sweatpantsâimprovising lyrics about visiting the nearby Whole Foods. Later, the band responded to the crowdâs unsolicited song requests by playing the Green Acres theme. We heard snippets of âIron Manâ and the '60s ska nugget âMy Boy Lollipopâ and a medley of T. Rex songs, and got a second encore only after the house lights went up and the crew began breaking down the stage.
More than the "hits"—and we got most of them over the course of about two hours, including a transcendent double-shot of "Can't Hardly Wait" and "Bastards of Young" and a slightly mangled "I Will Dare"—it was those random, seemingly superfluous moments that made this a true 'Mats show, not just "The Paul and Tommy Revue." (It also helped to have the Young Fresh Fellows, who the Replacements toured with often back in the day, open up with an even more loose-limbed set.) It probably won't enter local lore in the way of that infamous 1987 debacle—it's hard to beat a flying couch, after all—but the band did do something it probably won't repeat in other cities: Halfway through "Talent Show," the group segued into "Portland," the rarely played Don't Tell a Soul outtake written in the aftermath of that legendarily disastrous gig. "So sorry, Portland," Westerberg called out, repeating an apology he's issued several times over the ensuing decades. There was nothing to apologize for this time around, but consider it accepted.
All photos by Colin McLaughlin.