Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Sober Westerberg singer rocks after 6-year absence

Concert review

By Larry Nager,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It was a sober Paul Westerberg who played the 20th Century Monday night, a concept unimaginable 18 years ago, when he and his famously unsober band, the Replacements, were headlining Newport's Jockey Club. Monday, he limited his inhaling to a cigar he puffed on his w ay to the stage and drank only water and Coke. But he proved you can be clean and play dirty.

        In front of a sellout crowd of 450, he energetically beat on half a dozen electric and acoustic guitars for 105 minutes, including 25 minutes of encores. With a loyal audience that provided lyrics whenever he had a momentary lapse, Mr. Westerberg was a real one-man-band, rocking with all the old pas sion.

        Wearing his trademark suit and playing on a stage decorated like a 1963 living room, he faced his fans and played the hits - or what should have been hits.

        His new songs from Stereo/Mono - “Only Lie Worth Telling,” “Mr. Rabbit,” “Let The Bad Times Roll,” “Eyes Like Sparks” - stood up to his '80s and early '90s output - “Waitin' For Somebody” from his score for the movie Singles; “Knockin' on Mine,” from his 14 Songs solo debut; the Stones' “Jumpin' Jack Flash,” a cover the Replacements recorded for a 1984 indie cassette; “Swingin' Party” from the LP Tim; and several songs from the Replacements' major label debut Pleased to Meet Me, “Skyway,” “Valentine” and Mr. Westerberg's tribute to the leader of Memphis cult band Big Star, “Alex Chilton.”

        On the last, he poked fun at Guns N' Roses leader Axl Rose, who now employs the Replacements' old bassist Tommy Stinson (and reportedly refused to let him do a reunion tour). Instead of “I never go far without a little Big Star,” he sang, “a little GNR.”

        The show was moved from Bogart's (Mr. Westerberg hasn't toured in six years and his cult has shrunk), but the crowd made up in devotion what they lacked in size. They laughed affectionately whenever he'd flub a line - as he himself did. In that, he was the opposite of a typical rock star, taking the music, but never himself, seriously.

        Combined with a body of well-crafted songs that masterfully mix comedy and tragedy, it made for an intimate, unpretentious show. It's a lesson the wave of garage-rockers and pop-punks should learn.


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