2002 / Live Reviews / Music

Concert Review: Westerberg Brings It All Back Home

Ex-Replacement Wows Fans With Solo Show

Paul Westerberg was loose but in command during Saturday night’s concert in front of his hometown crowd.

Photo: Vagrant Records

Photo: Vagrant Records

Radiating coolness, Paul Westerberg was slightly swaying onstage, singing and strumming his acoustic guitar. But just as he was easing his way into the sing-along chorus of “2 Days ‘Til Tomorrow,” the bang of a small explosion erupted from his amp. Caught off guard, Westerberg stumbled back for a moment. He shrugged it off, but when he tried again, the same sound roared out of the speaker.

“So much for that song,” Westerberg said wryly, casually tossing the idea overboard and going into a steadied performance of another new tune, “Let The Bad Times Roll.”

It was this sense of looseness that defined Westerberg’s solo concert Saturday night at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater. This first show of a sold-out, three-night hometown stand marked Westerberg’s return after a six-year absence from Twin Cities’ stages.

With no backup band and stage props consisting of a weathered, tan couch, tacky lamp and an orange leather chair, the show looked like it was taking place in Westerberg’s basement (where he recorded his new double-album, “Stereo/Mono”). This charade of intimacy was effective — it gave the audience the feeling that they were hanging out at an afternoon practice session, watching Paul perform carefree renditions of his own songs as well as some surprising covers.

Westerberg’s fondness for country, folk and the blues became clear not only in the selection of the songs, but from his interpretations of them. With nothing other than his voice and guitar, the nuances of Westerberg’s playing and singing were critical (and offered a glimpse of his musical influences). Even his foibles added to his charm.

Not that he needed any help. From the moment he set foot onstage and was greeted with a standing ovation, Westerberg had to do little to win the crowd’s favor. His sharp tongue, onstage clowning and willingness to dip into his old Replacements’ songbook only gave the audience more reasons to love him.

Beyond the charm, he also sounded fantastic.

Westerberg, dressed in a wrinkled tuxedo with a crimson jacket, started the concert with an electric guitar — ruthlessly thumping the strings on the Replacements gem “Alex Chilton” and then strutting through the rockabilly groove of “Psychopharmacology.” For most of the night, however, he relied on an acoustic guitar.

“This is going to sound timid in comparison,” Westerberg said as he strapped on his 12-string. “But that’s OK.” It didn’t.

As he sang, his face contorted with every word as if he was cursing the microphone. He adjusted his cadence continuously, adding variety to each song. Sometimes, this revealed a hint of a twang that wasn’t present on the album version. On other songs, his vocal improvisations illuminated the obvious influence of Bob Dylan (“Got You Down”) or Leonard Cohen (“We May Be The Ones”).

His performance wasn’t just about subtleties. He worked a cover of Dylan’s “All I Really Wanna Do” (Westerberg even emulated the hillbilly falsetto of Bob’s version) into a medley with his own pleading “Dirt To Mud.” Later, he traversed the well-worn trails of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway” and rocked out to the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

Westerberg hasn’t shed his love of punk either. He injected the traditional folk song, “Long Black Veil,” with rumbling guitar and focused energy. While the countless renditions of this song are always sad and solemn, Westerberg’s version burned with passion, and he moaned during the chorus like a hound dog.

He demonstrated the same reverence as he dedicated the show to his 84-year-old father. Just when you’d think he was getting soft, he paid tribute by tearing into many of his old standards like “Waiting On Somebody” or “If Only You Were Lonely” with the same angst that he had as a teen rebelling against his parents. Even his sentimental material like “Skyway” and “Achin’ To Be” (in which he mentioned fellow singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams) was powerful, and both got the biggest cheers of the night.

Between the songs, Westerberg amused the crowd with his cute antics. His good humor also helped him overcome minor mistakes, some technical difficulties and the barrage of requests hollered by the more boisterous members of the crowd — all of which threatened to upend his set.

“This is what it sounds like in my head,” Westerberg said as suggestions came flooding in. He smiled and seemed unfazed by the chaos. He seemed to like it. Most likely, he never had this much support while fooling around in his basement.

NOTEAlthough Westerberg has recently performed short sets during a few in-store appearances around the country, a full-scale tour reportedly will be announced soon.

Set List:

  1. High Time
  2. Alex Chilton
  3. Mr. Rabbit
  4. Psychopharmacology
  5. Waiting On Somebody
  6. Lush and Green
  7. Achin’ To Be
  8. 2 Days ‘Til Tomorrow
  9. Let The Bad Times Roll
  10. Dirt To Mud
  11. All I Really Wanna Do (Bob Dylan)
  12. Eyes Like Sparks
  13. Got You Down
  14. We May Be the Ones
  15. Crackle and Drag (Unreleased original)
  16. I Will Dare
  17. Skyway
  18. Love Untold
  19. Lawdy Miss Clawdy (Traditional)
  20. Let’s Not Belong
  21. Long Black Veil (Traditional)
  22. Kickin’ The Stall
  23. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (The Rolling Stones)
  24. Swinging Party

Encore:

  1. If Only You Were Lonely
  2. Lost Highway (Hank Williams)
  3. It’s A Wonderful Lie

For More Info:

Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2002 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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