Live at Maxwell’s provides the ultimate Replacements experience for those of us too young to have heard them live.
The Replacements had a scuzzy, punk-inspired bar-rock sound, succeeding in something extraordinary—perfecting an imperfect style that virtually no one has been able to do this well since, though it has inspired countless imitators. It’s no exaggeration to say that it is hard to imagine the development of so-called “college rock” and, as a result, much American rock music—indie, alternative, alt-country, power-pop, pop-punk and more—of the ‘90s and ‘00s without them.
Their studio albums have received a great deal of praise and acclaim, all well-deserved, but many fans will agree there is nothing better than listening to the band live. What they excelled at wasn’t the perfect take so much as a raw earnestness and a willfully haphazard sound that was at its most electrifying when the band was as its loosest and most unhinged, as they were live (often thanks to stupendous quantities of beer). With Rhino’s release of For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986, then, Replacements aficionados get all they’ve ever dreamed of, though those same fans most likely have been listening to bootlegs for years.
Recorded February 4th, 1986, the set finds the band in scorching form, playing songs from their first four albums—Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, Hootenanny, Let It Be and Tim—and the 1982 EP Stink, which was released in between the first two LPs.
Of course, we know that their legendary and troubled guitar player, Bob Stinson, would leave the band later that year, making his blistering playing all the more compelling and poignant to listen to here, from “Hayday” to “Hold My Life” to “Takin’ a Ride” to “I’m in Trouble,” not to mention “Johnny’s Gonna Die” and…oh, hell, just about every other song, too. Though the band would still make good music without him, they would never be quite the same. Brother Tommy Stinson is here on bass, with the drummer Chris Mars and of course Paul Westerberg on vocals and rhythm guitar.
There are funny moments captured here, too: a shambolic cover of The Sweet’s “Fox on the Run,” which ends a bit abruptly after a minute, their rendition of Kiss’s “Black Diamond,” which appeared on Let It Be and inspired covers of T. Rex’s “Baby Strange,” Vanity Fair’s “Hitchin’ a Ride” and The Beatles’ “Nowhere Man.” The songs from Stink are especially fun—trashy tunes like “God Damn Job” (with inspired soloing from Stinson) and “Fuck School,” as well as the irresistible and quite sophomoric “Gary’s Got a Boner” from the aforementioned Let It Be.
Throughout, Westerberg is at his coarse, hoarse best, the closest punk has come to having its very own Mick Jagger. However, Westerberg has always had much more of a “regular guy” vibe. Though his vocals are far from polished (rightly so), his singing does provide a kind of anchor for their band, steering them through the songs and holding them upright when they’re on the verge of teetering overboard.
But it’s not all one big party. Guitar fans have plenty to drool over here, but melody-heads will be just as pleased, not just by the “hits” (“Unsatisfied,” “Bastards of Young” “Kiss Me on the Bus,” and others) but also by romantic classics like “Answering Machine” and “If Only You Were Lonely.” You can see why Westerberg wrote a song about Alex Chilton. The tortured Big Star genius looms large over the Replacements’ sound and, though their sound is certainly harder-edged, more cocksure, they do retain some of his melancholy sweetness.
In short, while the studio albums have an appealing concision, Live at Maxwell’s in many ways provides the ultimate Replacements experience for those of us too young to have heard them live. For these ears, this album is essential listening. Those bastards could play.