The Replacements: “Live and Drunk” at 35

Thirty-five years ago, the Replacements performed one of rock music’s most brilliant acts of artistic sabotage.

In 1984, the Minneapolis-based band was receiving accolades in the press. Music fans discussed when (not if) they’d move to a major label and leave the indie/underground behind. They were on the verge of being the Next Big Thing. And they weren’t entirely happy about it.

On December 9 that year, they played a special show at New York’s CBGB, the famed birthplace of American punk. The show,  often bootlegged under the title “Live and Drunk,” features the band creatively deconstructing everything around the concept of the “Big Break” gig. They pop the balloon of pretentiousness surrounding them and make themselves look like damn fools just for the joy of dragging their audience of trendy NYC taste-makers down with them. After the first song (the then-unreleased “Lookin’ for Ya)”, Westerberg yells to the crowd “The first person to compliment us….” His threat goes unfinished, but the show makes good on it.

The results are painful, and often hilarious. The ‘Mats are sloppy and mostly play other band’s songs. At the start, fans are shouting to the band the names of covers they want to hear (one girl really wants “Heartbeat” by the DeFranco Family and the poor thing never gets it). By then end, people are shouting “Play the Replacements!”

Now understand–the show should be listened to in its entirety from start to finish, like you’d watch a stand-up comedian’s special, rather than picking songs from the set. All the songs sound bad, but in an intentional way that shifts as the show goes on. That said, I’m going to post links and some highlights to look for (times according to YouTube video marked **):

6 min, 30 sec – A crowd member demands the band “Do the Pussy Set!” The band responds by playing “Color Me Impressed,” one of their best-known songs, at half-tempo. The drag-ass result is presumably the polar opposite of what crowd members who went to see a punk-inspired band would expect.

12 min, 50 sec – A pretty great cover of Elvis Presley’s “Do the Clam” with their roadie Bill Sullivan on lead vocals segues into a version of “Walk on the Wild Side” with sarcastic revamped lyrics about themselves: “Replacements came from Minneapolis, Minnesota/Thought they could pull one over on ya.”

43 min – The band begins covering songs while Westerberg sings Replacements lyrics. They start by doing U2’s “I Will Follow” while Paul sings their single “Kids Don’t Follow.” By the end of this portion, he’s crooning Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Looking” while the band plays “Temptation Eyes” by The Grass Roots. Shambling, but often clever as hell.

1 hr. 6 min – Sullivan warbles through “If I Only Had a Brain,” the Scarecrow’s song for Wizard of Oz and a tune the band clearly identifies with. He then sings the Gilligan’s Island theme, with lyrics about touring inserted.

Bob Mehr’s excellent Replacements biography, Trouble Boys, covers the self-destructive side of the band very well. They had an intense fear of success, and their alcohol-dependence didn’t help.

While Mehr’s book captures that element, it underplays the performance art quality that the Replacements had, including Westerberg’s assertion that they had a lot in common with Andy Kaufman (another bewildering 80s artist who, like the ‘Mats, got banned from Saturday Night Live). Which is to say, yes, they were drunk at CBGB’s but they also knew exactly what they were doing. They liked pissing off/on their audience and its high expectations.

It’s one thing for a band to have jitters and blow their shot at the Big Time, and quite another for a band to outright mock the entire notion of Big Time by delivering a willfully (and extraordinarily funny) awful show.  That’s what the “Live and Drunk” show is at its heart.

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