Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA
August 13, 2002
By: Darcy Sachs
Still A Replacement
The stage at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta looks more like the
setting for an intimate gathering among friends, than the site for
a rock concert. But the retro style couches, chairs, table and lamp
are not there to host a social gathering, they are there for Paul
Westerberg. Although touring in support of his latest release, a
double CD called Stereo/Mono, songs from the albums can easily
be lost among the dozens of tunes from a ten year career with the
Replacements, and the solo years that follow, which make up the
nearly two hour concert set.
Two decades ago, the
Replacements gained notoriety for the unpredictability that plagued
their live shows. Whether the band members would stumble on stage
in a drunken stupor only to rush through a handful of songs, or
whether the audience would witness a night of rock and roll at its
best, was always a legitimate question. After a six-year absence
from the road, their former frontman has people wondering what to
expect when he takes the stage. Solo.
Expecting the performer
at 8:00 pm, the roughly 1000 people packed in for the sold-out show
still wait in anticipation thirty minutes later. While some sit,
die-hard fans of all ages crowd the floor trying to remain patient
despite their excitement. If not for the abundance of water bottles
awaiting him onstage, some may suspect Westerberg, now in his early
40s, regressed to his Replacements-era habit of drinking backstage
in preparation for the night ahead.
Despite trading in beer
bottles for Aquafina, the aging rocker immediately proves that he
still holds a place for the rebel he once was. He sprints onstage
with a smoking cigar hanging from his mouth. Anyone who frequents
the Variety Playhouse knows of the venue's strict no smoking policy,
but who is going to tell Paul Westerberg to put out a cigar?
Wearing an orange plaid
outfit complimented by a purple tie, Westerberg takes a guitar.
His signature melodic garage rock soon envelops the room as he opens
the show with High Time, the first cut from Mono.
The audience sings along as Westerberg looks out grinning, obviously
pleased with the crowd's reaction. Fans
take advantage of the performer's choice not to use a setlist to
guide him through the evening. Throughout the show they respond
to songs with cheers and requests, which Westerberg willingly fulfills.
At times, satisfying fans means sacrificing lyrics. During an amusing
rendition of the sarcastic track Waitress in the Sky, the
artist fiddles around on his guitar and stumbles through forgotten
lyrics as audience members take over singing duties. He clearly
enjoys the moment, proving that it's all just fun and games.
About midway through
the thirty-two song set, Westerberg begins a cover of the Rolling
Stones' hit Jumpin' Jack Flash, only to be interrupted by
an attendee yelling insults about Stones guitarist Keith Richards.
As if stepping back twenty years, the ex-Replacement pushes over
his mic stand, throws down his guitar and storms to the edge of
the stage to confront the offender. Security guards restrain the
seemingly annoyed performer from jumping into the audience to settle
this dispute. Perhaps it is the sea of confused faces staring at
him that causes Westerberg to reassure the silenced onlookers by
commenting with a smirk, "Time for daddy to sit down now, kids,"
as he takes a seat on the couch.
Interaction between singer
and crowd occurs throughout the show. During a slower version of
Wonderful Lie, he hurls handfuls of kazoos into the audience
after commenting how much fuller the song would sound with backup
from a kazoo section. He continues his song as the audience eagerly
awaits their cue to join in . . . it never comes.
Going back to his early
years, Westerberg obligingly delivers Replacements classics such
as Alex Chilton and Valentine. The raw guitar sounds
infect the audience, enticing them to dance as they sing along.
During slower acoustic songs like Swingin' Party and Here
Comes a Regular, the mesmerized fans never take their eyes off
the singer as they mouth every word along with him. Those worried
about Replacements songs losing something without the entire band
backing up Westerberg have nothing to fear. The songs lend themselves
surprisingly well to a single guitar.
As a way to meld the
stage with the floor, Westerberg invites anyone who wants to, to
join him on the couch. The front row enthusiastically climbs onstage
to plop themselves on the furniture, as a herd from the back of
the room rushes down making their way to the stage. Eventually security
guards push people back to avoid losing sight of the musician. The
atmosphere onstage resembles that of a sing-along as fans join in
on I Will Dare. Westerberg's raspy voice leads them into
a chorus so catchy, it is a challenge not to sing along.
Several times the surrounded
star announces he's finished, but each time his admirers onstage
convince him to do "just one more song." But all shows
must end, and security escorts everyone offstage as the performer
exits. The crowd remains cheering, luring Paul Westerberg for an
encore. The opening line of Nevermind brings an uproar of
cheers from every corner of the room. The singer's voice is a distinctive
combination of gruff and melodic as he gives a heartfelt performance
of the song, which appears to have as much meaning to him now as
when he originally recorded it in 1987. As a classic rock and roll
ending to a classic garage rock song, Westerberg abruptly smashes
his guitar and storms offstage, confirming he still has some Replacement
left in him.