With “I Was There When…,” veteran music journalist Doug Collette reflects on his experiences in the glory days of live rock music. With each column, he takes us back to a specific concert he attended way back when, spotlighting bands like The Who, Pink Floyd, and The Allman Brothers Band, among many others.
Whether you adored The Replacements through their indie days at Twin Tone Records or got a crush on the band when they moved to the majors on Warner/Sire, you loved the group as much in spite of their vices as because of their virtues. And that dichotomy was especially prevalent on stage when the only guidance this band had laid in their own instincts, for better or worse.
It seemed, at the time and in retrospect, that those odds were even when the Replacements played Burlington, Vermont’s Memorial Auditorium in March of 1989. Also an early stop on The Allman Brothers Dreams reunion tour this same year (‘Mats leader Paul Westerberg claims he learned guitar by playing At Fillmore East at slowed-down speed), the somewhat ramshackle venue had been closed to concerts for a period of time by the Queen City due to dubious activities, including the de rigeur noise complaint, in recent years.
The Bastards of Young’s audience did nothing to cause issues this late winter night. but they were most likely alternately fascinated, repulsed, and mystified by the goings on in front of them. Rare it is for a band to be as unruly as its audience and perhaps more so, but even without any incitement to riot, the ‘Mats careened more than a little madly though a lengthy set in which the thin veneer of polish they’d developed over the years, accentuated by the hiring of guitarist Slim Dunlap to replace the ailing Bob Stinson, just as often as not gave way to the sloppy drunk musicianship that almost but not quite called into question the band’s credibility even into their later years.
Not surprisingly, the sharpest performances came on material of more recent vintage, not just from Tim and beyond (“Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Little Mascara”), but Let It Be cuts like “I Will Dare” that turned that album’s title into a command when it was a benediction from The Beatles. In fact, the variations in level of professionalism now sounds so marked, it’s almost as if The Replacements deliberately conceived the set that way, implausible (impossible?) as that may sound.
The end of the show provided either the punctuation to that statement of stellar role-playing or exercise in cynicism, depending on your point of view. It was one thing to hear the rowdy quartet encore by shredding the ear candy that’s “Hitchin’ A Ride,” another altogether when Westerberg ended up lying flat on his back crooning unsteadily into the microphone on “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes).”
Standing at the rear of the gymnasium (sic) watching this near train wreck, the T-shirt slogan of the group’s soundman: “What’s so great about being a grownup?” (or words to that effect) could’ve been The Replacements’ motto. They never did find an answer, but on nights like this, they posed the question so relentlessly, it couldn’t be ignored.