Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Legendary Boy In The Rafters

When I first saw The Replacements at The Living Room in 1987 their entire world had changed. They had fired founding member Bob Stinson, recorded an album 'Pleased to Meet Me' as a trio, and hired Minneapolis six-stringer Slim Dunlap as Bob's (ahem)replacement for the tour supporting the album.

I was bummed that I'd not seen the gang in their original form with Smokin' and Drinkin' Bob Stinson hammering away in a dress or a garbage bag but the album was amazing and I preferred the survival of the band to a drunken mess. Advance word had it that they were scorching every stage they touched. Advance word was right.

I've talked about this show before but I keep coming back to it for a number of reasons. Primarily because it holds up in my mind as the greatest rock and roll show I've ever seen but also because of the simple fact that live rock and roll was still a new phenomenon for me.

The preceding year had been a difficult one for my school, my town, my friends. A well-liked classmate had killed himself. This had perforated any remaining innocence I could have claimed and channeled me towards darker and darker realms. I was about to enter college, my best friends were both leaving town which meant my band was leaving town, and I knew I would miss them terribly.

So in the midst of this, The Replacements' new album was akin to a new set of gospels being discovered in your own backyard. One song in particular seemed oddly apt, a bleak upbeat howl called 'The Ledge' sung entirely from the perspective of a teenager on the brink of suicide.

The video was controversial, which for The Replacements was a bit ironic. They had balked at making videos once signed to Warner Bros. For example, the video for 'Bastards of Young' consisted of an LP spinning on a turntable next to a speaker. At the end of the song, a Converse clad sneaker kicks the speaker in.

MTV banned 'The Ledge' from regular rotation. I've actually never seen it. Don't really care to.

Back to the show...

It was about a thousand degrees in the club, to the point where a shirtless guy wasn't seen as some sort of imposition or brag. The band raised the temperature a number of degrees with a blistering set. I fought my way up to the lip of the stage and stared up at my idols.

Well past the two hour mark, they tore into 'The Ledge'. For a teen who had been recently shaken to the core by suicide, this might have been the most healing thing that could have happened. All that pain and confusion muscled into a sing-along!

During the song, everyone became aware of a scrawny kid who somehow had made his way up into the rafters of the club. He hung over the stage listening intently. Tommy Stinson banged away at his bass but managed to bid the kid be careful when he danced up to the mike to sing backup vocals. Paul Westerberg was too far into the performance to notice but the content of the song combined with this mini re-enactment to create an almost unbearable tension.

As the band wound the song down the kid followed meekly and made his way to the edge of the stage. The bouncers were so relieved they didn't even throw the kid out. He took a spot at the foot of the band like me and took in the rest of the show.

'All the love that they pledge
For the last time will not reach
The ledge'
- The Replacements 'The Ledge' off of 'Pleased to Meet Me'

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