By Chris M. Junior
Unpredictability remains a big part of a Replacements concert experience.
During the band’s first run (1979-91), the element of uncertainty had to do with the quality of the performance: One show could be really great, and the next one might be really sloppy.
These days, the unpredictable nature has to do with the set list. With no new album to push, the ‘Mats — original members Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson, plus ace sidemen Dave Minehan and Josh Freese (two veterans of Westerberg’s early solo bands) — have been mixing things up quite nicely on the self-deprecatingly titled Back By Unpopular Demand tour.
The May 9 outdoor show at Festival Pier in Philadelphia was no exception. On this pleasant spring night, The Replacements leaned heavy on 1985’s “Tim” and 1987’s “Pleased to Meet Me” (never a bad thing), with the former’s “Bastards of Young” and the latter’s “Alex Chilton” packing the most punch and both appearing toward the end of the concert. There was also plenty of material from 1984’s “Let It Be,” including “Unsatisfied,” the final encore. While 1989’s “Don’t Tell a Soul” album was totally ignored, they did squeeze in a ragged and truncated rendition of “Nobody,” one of the best songs from 1990’s underappreciated “All Shook Down.”
Early ’Mats material was represented by such fan favorites as “Within Your Reach” and “Takin’ a Ride,” the set’s opener. Of course, it wouldn’t have been a Replacements show without Westerberg flubbing some lyrics, half-baked attempts at covers (most notably a charming and goofy take on the happy 1964 hit “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie Small) and we’ve-got-nothing-to-lose shenanigans (the bad idea to have two members play “Androgynous” at the same time two others played “Seen Your Video”).
Late in the show, Westerberg's energy seemed to drop, and that might have had something to do with his unspecified illness earlier in the week (which led to shows in Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, being called off). However, the lull wasn't so precipitous or prolonged that it spoiled the gig.
The Back By Unpopular Demand tour resumes May 28 in Spain, with dates in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Portugal to follow.