By Mark Guarino
With Tommy Stinson shackled to Axl Rose and Chris Mars painting professionally, Paul Westerberg had no other choice but to replace the Replacements on his first tour with a full band in nine years. Paul Westerberg & His Only Friends was the name sheepishly announced on the bill of the New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street in Memphis. A show in the Delta’s cradle did not go unnoticed. Westerberg dug hard into the blues, delivering raucous, rocking versions from back catalog that weren’t just reverential to his past, they more than often took you there.
The ‘Friends’ were just that: a trio of Minneapolis stalwarts (Prince drummer Michael Bland, ex-Son Volt bassist Jim Boquist, guitarist Kevin Bowe) that followed every Westerberg inclination to go left when he looked to go right. He was especially unhinged, taking lengthy breakout guitar leads that once inspired him to go flat on his back. His late career incarnation for muddied slop blues was preeminent, but there were times — a narcotic paced “I Will Dare” and “Knocking on Mine,” driven at death metal speed — he took reverential fans for a loop. After years as a one-man band, Westerberg looked rejuvenated once again by a torrent of sound. He left the night crawling to the stage wings.
Fans who knew better were rewarded when the band wandered back long after the house lights drove out most the crowd. Only 20 or so stragglers witnessed a smackdown of “Alex Chilton” and “Left of the Dial” — glorious punk that still sounded in its prime.