‘For Sale’ captures the Replacements at their peak

Legendary band gets the live album treatment

The_Replacements_-_For_Sale_-_Live_at_Maxwell's_1986

"For Sale," the live Replacements album, captures some of the classic's bands greatest tracks in a rare format.

Courtesy Rhino

Comedy, drunkenness, chaos, family drama, triumph. This may sound like the stuff of hefty Russian literature, but it also encapsulates the story of the Replacements — a beloved band from the Minneapolis 80s alt-rock scene who just released its latest album, “For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986.”

Though they never became a household name, the Replacements remain one of the most legendary bands in rock ‘n roll history. Their catalog ranges from snotty, loose but not-quite-hardcore punk to melodic, more commercially-orientated pop. Frontman Paul Westerberg is one of rock’s great lyricists, seen in his empathetic articulations of teenage angst, “Sixteen Blue,” and his ability to transform mundanities like answering machines and dental procedures into worthwhile song inspirations, such as “Answering Machine” and “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” 

The remaining members of the group’s classic lineup included lead guitarist Bob Stinson, bassist Tommy Stinson — also Bob’s half-brother — and drummer Chris Mars. They uniquely complemented Westerberg’s vulnerable sensibilities with the rage evoked in their shreds, bashes and pounds. The result of these four outcasts, joining forces, was an admirable but  ragged mess — a lovelorn band that never completely lost touch of its sloppy punk roots with a career extending from goofy, dirty jokes to introspective ballads haunting in their resonance.

Regardless of all the talent involved, the Replacements were masters at self-sabotage. Alcoholism and substance abuse, a refusal to make accessible music videos and purposeful antagonism toward producers undercut every chance they had at mainstream success. When the occasion most demanded excellence, their performances were inebriated and shambolic. The Replacements could be brilliant onstage, but they could also be downright embarrassments with entire sets comprising of haphazard covers or unfinished songs.

Few musical concepts should be treated with as much skepticism as a Replacements live album due to the drunken antics associated with their performances. As Tommy Stinson bluntly put it, “There are no good Replacements live recordings.” And yet, the just-released album “For Sale” joyously documents the band at their definitive performance peak.

The live album consists of 29 songs — some classics, like “I Will Dare” and “Bastards of Young,” some forgotten juvenile anthems, such as “F—k School” and “God D—n Job” and the usual offerings of covers, like“Nowhere Man” by The Beatles and “Baby Strange” by T. Rex. “For Sale” was professionally recorded at the intimate and beloved New Jersey club — Maxwell’s — in February 1986, shortly after the release of their major label debut, “Tim,” and just a few months before Bob Stinson was dismissed from the band. At this point, the Replacements had been touring together for over five years and could be pros onstage — if they were in the mood. The album captures the band as seasoned performers, but also leaves plenty of room for spontaneity and goofball moments — the essential ingredients for the best Replacements gigs.

The track “Hayday” —  which includes one of the album’s many instances of Westerberg repeatedly shouting “Murder!” — opens the set with a primal, infectious energy that sustains all 83 minutes of the album. In addition to the stellar remastered audio quality, the album’s highlights include the lean, urgent performances of brash tracks like “I’m In Trouble” and “Otto.” These renditions on “For Sale” arguably surpass their versions of the group’s debut, “Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out The Trash.” 

The live performances notably differing from studio versions mark additional achievements of the album — “I Will Dare” becomes stripped of its mandolin solo and a rudimentary “Can’t Hardly Wait” features a Bob Stinson’s raw, muscular guitar leads, in replacement of the brass section which appears in the 1987 album, “Pleased to Meet Me.” 

Unlike most live albums, the interactions between the Replacements and their dedicated audience provide a considerable amount of fun in “For Sale.” Shortly into the set, a fan asks the group to play Sweet’s “Fox on the Run.” Westerberg asks the band, “Do we know ‘Fox on the Run?’” before immediately obliging her request. They flub through the cover before ultimately aborting the mission halfway through the first chorus. A brilliant disaster like this feeds into the group’s less-than-stellar reputation, but that becomes quickly negated by a triumphant rendition of “Hold My Life.”

Westerberg, the Stinsons and Mars are all wholeheartedly committed to their performance, and to hear them play so ferociously and harmoniously together is heartfelt, to say the least. Bob Stinson stands as the set’s most valuable player — his signature, slightly unconventional riffs most aptly capture the sensation of “For Sale.” 

After Stinson, the chief misfit among a band of misfits, was kicked out of the Replacements for extreme alcohol and substance abuse, the group went on to create the terrific “Pleased To Meet Me” and a handful of superb singles. However, it was never quite the same without Stinson’s remarkably focused and precise shredding. Stinson was the key member of the Replacements — he made the band a brilliantly chaotic rock ‘n roll group, instead of just a solid underground one. 

“For Sale” is a thrilling showcase of how the Replacements were more than capable of being a terrific live band. There was an inscrutable power and energy to their performances, and the album offers the Replacements, playing nearly all of their catalog coherently together in a beloved club to a zealous audience at their performance peak. “Color me impressed.”

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