By Mark Guarino
Flubbed lyrics, self-deprecation, crowd participation and enduring songs — must be a show by Paul Westerberg.
Westerberg, who fronted the Twin Cities band the Replacements, played just to 300 diehard fans at the Michigan Ave. Virgin Megastore Thursday, the last stop of a mini-tour, his first in the area in about six years.
A band with a post-career legend more viable than its popularity at the time, the Replacements is credited as drawing the map for the ‘90s independent rock scene with its middle finger attitude and underground, do-it-yourself ethos.
While a new generation of imitators capitalized on its slouch but on a more profitable scale, the Replacements broke up and Westerberg and spent the last decade shaping a solo career as a craftsman of wistful songs. His pair of new albums — one quiet, one loud — is being hailed as his best since his glory years.
But by now Westerberg is almost mythical, helped by his reclusiveness, the result of parenthood and sobriety. At the 17-song, 65-minute show, however, he played mostly Replacements nuggets (“Alex Chilton,” “Another Girl, Another Planet,” “I Will Dare,” “Sadly Beautiful”). And if he didn’t remember the lyrics (often), the crowd sang to teach him. For “First Glimmer,” he let them take over the entire song as he hummed background chord changes.
The face-to-face show was ripe for the type of spontaneity you can’t fake. After diving in the crowd to slap a heckler last week in San Francisco, Westerberg arrived with bodyguards — “they have hired security now, for your protection,” he said.
But that didn’t stop him from, on three separate occasions asking crowd members (including this writer) to hold up lyrics sheets while he played or jumping on top a display table of books to play a request in front of the person who shouted it.
Songs stopped bluntly, blended into one another, and started out of nowhere as if Westerberg had trouble keeping up with himself. And as much as his anthems of alienation sounded great blaring out of his duct taped amp, with an acoustic version of “Swingin’ Party,” the room deadened to silence. Then he played two more songs and ran out the door.