The Replacements, Perfectly Imperfect, Return to 30 Rock to Play ‘The Tonight Show’

The Replacements’ reunion tour has hit the “late-night TV circuit” stage, which is also the “so is this like a full-on thing now?” stage, which comes just before the “everyone ask these dudes if they’re gonna make new music in every single interview” stage. (I would fight against this last stage preemptively, asking, At this point, how would new Replacements stuff differ significantly to you from the oodles of Paul Westerberg solo stuff that you’d ignored for a decade and change? I would do that if it weren’t for the fact that the Replacements, god bless their contrarian hearts, do not actually seem to be doing any interviews.) So: Last night, the Replacements played The Tonight Show and — in accordance with ongoing reports since last year at Riot Fest in Chicago, when they first re-formed like Voltron — TOTALLY SHREDDED.

The added wrinkle here was that the band was returning to 30 Rock for the first time since being banned from SNL, for a gloriously sloppy performance, in 1986. See below. Well, hello, Harry Dean Stanton!

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What a mess by mmr421

The SNL story is a founding text of Replacements lore, a capsule anecdote for the entire beloved M.O.: get up there, get drunk, fall apart. But this particular mini-redemption arc seemed a bit silly: I mean, it’s not like they actually returned to SNL, right? Presumably, in all of these years, they could have wandered around 30 Rock just as much as they pleased? Could have spent their entire lunch hour at that Potbelly’s in the basement and no one would have said a word?

The surprising thing? Despite this near-obsession from fans who hadn’t seen them the first time around on the “shambling” part of their “shambling charm,” somehow, they’re still providing the goods. Check out Westerberg locking in for nearly the entire song — which is, by the way, perfect now, as it has ever been — before fading on that last chorus: “Children … by the millions … Alex Chiiilton”? Check him out going off-script: “I’m in love … with daffodil”?! I mean, how do you keep up the “loveable fuckup” bit forever? I guess by, you know, actually being a loveable fuckup.

I saw them last week in Massachusetts, during the Boston Calling festival, for the first time. I was beyond amped, juiced up not just from the sheer imminent joy of seeing THE GODDAMN REPLACEMENTS but also nearly exactly a year’s worth of stupidly satisfied old head fans. And allow me to be the millionth person to report that, holy shit, they look and sound incredible.

There were the bits and riffs, yeah: Paul forgetting lyrics, and counting, first in English, then in Spanish, until the song caught back up to the parts he knew; Tommy and Paul, talking in each other’s ears, laughing like schoolchildren about god knows what; Westerberg turning to his left and, for reasons forever unknown, giving a mic stand a decisive, flattening kick to the midsection. At one point Stinson recalled that the last time the band played Boston they were at the Orpheum, and that he maybe didn’t have that good of a night that night. But that’s how it would go back then, he said: The whole band would take turns having the off nights. And then he turned to his man Westerberg, and laughed: “And I think Paul’s up tonight!”

But seeing them for the first time, it was finally clear it wasn’t about the off bits. It wasn’t about the stuff that got ’em booted from SNL. It was about them being powerfully, incessantly loud. It was about them being heart-pumpingly focused. And it was about the gentle ballads, and the lovely sing-alongs. It was about them being, perfectly, on.

Filed Under: Music, TV, The Replacements, Paul Westerberg, The Tonight Show

Amos Barshad has written for New York Magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ AmosBarshad