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Replacements Lose An Old Attitude

January 05, 1986|ROBERT HILBURN

When the Replacements' Paul Westerberg suggested we move from the Long Beach rock club where he had just completed a sound check to a nearby hotel bar for this interview, I checked to make sure I had a credit card with me. I figured we were talking serious tab.

Westerberg's band has a reputation for liking the sauce. The group members had so much trouble maintaining their balance at a boozy Palace show last April that they looked as if they were on roller skates.

The best of the Minneapolis-based group's songs, too, speak of the party-minded rites of adolescence, conveying both the frustrations and occasional self-destructiveness of the age--not that the band actually did many of their songs at the Palace. They spent most of the time on bits and pieces of such oddball selections as Hank Williams Jr.'s "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" and Vanity Faire's "Hitchin' a Ride." Quipped Westerberg to a fascinated Palace crowd: "We'd rather do other people's songs crummy than do our own songs crummy."

On a freewheeling rock 'n' anarchy scale, it was, of course, a great show. But it was also a dead end.

FOR THE RECORD - IMPERFECTIONS
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 19, 1986 Home Edition Calendar Page 95 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
TRASH TO GO: Rachael Kagan of L.A. caught Robert Hilburn mis-titling the Replacements' first LP Jan. 5. He tagged it--rather illogically now that Kagan mentions it--"Sorry Ma--Forgot to Bring in the Trash" when it should have been "Sorry Ma--Forgot to Take Out the Trash.".

If you set out to be crazy on stage, the only way to top yourself is to be crazier--and that can do you in. At some point, a great rock band has to stand on its own songs, if not on its own feet.

During the interview, Westerberg rolled his eyes at the mention of the Palace show as he sat in a corner table in the Long Beach bar and toyed with his cup of coffee.

Coffee?

"Yeah," he said, smiling. "I'm trying to watch myself a bit. One of the reasons that Palace show was the way it was is that we were drinking a lot in those days. But we also had this attitude. . . . We felt it was the 'big' Replacements show in town and people were going to be judging us. We felt we should lay the law down that we are not a band to be messed with . . . that we control the show and we are going to do what we want to do--even if we get drunk and screw it up."

But he acknowledged the dangers of that approach.

It's no accident that the Replacements' latest album, "Tim," and their December tour exhibited a maturity.

"I think the idea of the rowdy, barroom band has run its course pretty well," Westerberg said. "It's not like we are trying to shed that image, because that was us. We are just trying to leave room to to grow in other areas. Besides, the drinking and falling about all the time got old. We needed new challenges."

The Replacements backed up Westerberg's words on stage that night at the Long Beach club, Fender's. The group found time for outside material, including a speeded-up "The Marine's Hymn," and they still played several tunes with a high-energy guitar attack reminiscent of the Sex Pistols, but they concentrated on their own songs, including three from "Tim," which was named 1985 album of the year in a poll of 18 Times pop critics.

"Tim" is a frequently poignant reflection of the defiance and insecurities, hopes and frustrations associated with youth. It's as captivating a look about balancing maturity and youthful spirit as anything since the peak Who.

"Bastards of Young" is one of several songs that are both statements about the band and reflections on youthful anxiety.

"To me, a part of that song is about my younger sister who felt the need to go off to New York or somewhere to prove herself . . . to be something by going somewhere else," Westerberg, 26, said during the interview. "It's really just confusion of youth, not knowing where you fit in or not knowing where you came from.

"It is sort of the Replacements feeling the same way as far as musically not knowing where we fit. It's our way of reaching a hand out and saying, 'We are right along with you. You may look up to us or something, but in reality we are in no different state than you. We are just as confused.' " Given the band's playful reputation on stage, Westerberg proved surprisingly straightforward during the interview, even acknowledging that he's unlikely to do one of the new album's most moving songs, "Here Comes a Regular," in concert because he'd feel too naked emotionally. He's worried that some of the group's rowdier fans would object to the ballad.

"It's funny, but I don't usually identify with the people who rush to the front of the stage and scream the loudest. I usually feel more like the ones in the back who might be afraid to come up and say hello or would feel self-conscious right up front."

He added that the band's heavy drinking might have been caused largely by nervousness.

"One of the reasons we we used to drink so much is that it was scary going up on stage. That's one of the things 'Swingin' Party' is all about on the album . . . how it is a little frightening to put yourself on display all the time. The funny thing is people think you must have all this confidence to get up on stage.

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