Paul Westerberg – Music Farm (Charleston, SC)
When Paul Westerberg dashed out onto the stage at the Music Farm and ignited a lighter fluid-soaked green polyester jacket like some sort of freakish tribute to Hendrix at Monterey, it marked the end of one truly bizarre night of music and mayhem. It was Westerberg’s first visit to Charleston since the cross-country trek in 1991 that marked the end of his old band, the Replacements.
Things got rowdy almost from the start, as Westerberg performed a not-so-graceful swan dive into the crowd during the second song. At various times during the two-hour-plus show, Westerberg could be found jamming his microphone into his stage monitor (presumably for the deafening feedback it produced), tossing that same mike out into the crowd, and embarking on an impromptu expedition to the club’s ladies’ room.
That impulsive departure left Westerberg’s band — guitarist Kevin Bowe, former Son Volt bassist Jim Boquist, and drummer Michael Bland, an alumni of Prince’s New Power Generation — alone onstage to complete the song “Silver Naked Ladies”. Westerberg returned several minutes later with a couple of College of Charleston coeds in tow, and went on to complete the interrupted encore.
But while he seemed to have reverted back to the sloppy genius ways of his ‘Mats days, the antics actually made for a better musical experience. Sure, he managed to forget the words to his own songs more times than should have been acceptable, but when he nailed a tune, which was more often than not, Westerberg had the crowd eating out of his unsteady hand. To hear the gorgeous solo acoustic version of “Skyway”, the screamed rather than sung chorus of “Knockin’ On Mine”, or the inevitable yet triumphant “Can’t Hardly Wait” made all of the missed cues, sour notes and garbled lyrics worthwhile.
The show featured a generous helping of Replacements material, including “I.O.U.”, “I Will Dare”, “Merry Go Round”, “Left Of The Dial”, and “Kiss Me On The Bus”. There were also some curious cover choices, ranging from Michael Nesmith’s “Different Drum” to Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” to a suitably rowdy take on Sham 69’s “Borstal Breakout”. The encore ended with an inspired shot at yet another Replacements classic, “Alex Chilton”.
Even when Westerberg was laughing his way through a Replacements tune, he had something that isn’t seen enough anymore in rock ‘n’ roll — reckless abandon. Indeed, one of the hardest-working persons in the club that night was roadie Tim Fitch, who earned his keep resetting overturned mike stands, retrieving jettisoned microphones, and catching the occasional hurled Gibson. Westerberg, it seems, still prefers to fly by the seat of his pants onstage. God bless him for that.