Some decisions you make in life seem insignificant at the time but in retrospect are important keyframes in your life. My decision to see Paul Westerberg live at The Grand Emporium back in 2005 definitely qualifies. In many ways I didn’t realize the greatness I was witnessing that night. In an oversold venue where sweat rings adorn nearly every person’s shirt and you couldn’t avoid four people touching you at all times, it was truly an event to remember.
Let me start from the beginning of why I didn’t appreciate what I was seeing at the time. I was a very rare Paul Westerberg fan because I was actually a fan of his BEFORE I heard the Replacements. I know, this sounds ridiculous but it is true. My musical “awakening” as I refer to it, happened in about 1995; well after the Mats had broken up. This is when I started to discover what I now consider “good” music and Paul Westerberg was part of that. I would, and still do, trace artists’ work backwards through the years often. I didn’t even discover Westerberg then; it would be about 2003 before I would find his music and I would have just started tracking his catalog backwards through his Replacements years in 2005, right around the time of this show. This meant was among about 10 people out of the roughly 400 in attendance that wanted to hear solo Westerberg songs instead of Mats tunes; in retrospect I am extremely glad I didn’t get my wish as around a dozen songs from the defunct band would be played.
Westerberg would shoot out from behind the curtain to play two Mats tunes right away with “Merry Go Round” and “Someone Take The Wheel.” He would then take to some solo material but it would be far from the slower tempo reputation that his music has garnered. Songs like “Final Hurrah” “and “AAA” have just as much pompous rock as most Mats songs. “Kinockin’ On Mine” would likely be the show highlight as it was a ferocious version with the end of it gaining momentum and getting as jammy as you’ll see aging rocker.
The crowd would simply be worked into a frenzy by this point as you could see pure enjoyment from the former wild child college kids who now worried about their 401Ks and cholesterol levels. As I sweated in the narrow, shotgun style bar, looking up to gasp for fresh air, I vividly remember the presence of a few ceiling fans mysteriously hanging idle from the ceiling and wishing I knew where the switch was. The crowd was overheated but didn’t seem to mind as many would be making memories that would last until dementia washes them away. They would yell out almost exclusively Replacements song titles much to my dismay. Paul was in a giving mood that night as he would honer a ton of those requests.
A couple slower moments in the show did occur like the gentle performances of “Let The Bad Times Roll” and “No Place For You” before amping the tempo back up. Anyone who says “Let The Bad Times Roll” isn’t up to the quality the man produced with his former band never gave the song a shot in my opinion. The Grandpaboy song “Psychopharmacology” would get hammered out even faster than the obscure EP version. Shortly after he would send the band backstage, which happened to be a curtain covering the door leading to the street, so he could masterfully take on solo acoustic versions of the Replacements classics “Skyway” and “Here Comes A Regular.” The crowd would loudly sing along with every last syllable of these songs and become what Westerberg would describe as “like a football crowd singing in harmony.” He would bring the band back up and play yet more Mats requests in “Achin’ To Be” and “I Will Dare” both being written on a piece of paper someone in front of me would be holding up, a creative way to make sure your request would be heard. He would even laugh to himself and comment that this was “the best fucking audience we’ve had the whole time.”
With the show drawing to a close he would sing “IOU” “Alex Chilton” and “Left of the Dial” before going backstage (or into the street if you prefer) and perform a short encore. He would take on a couple minutes of the song “Kansas City Star” to honor the city he was currently in as the clueless crowd looked on. He would stop and turn to his band and say “they’ve never heard this song” and blast into “Can’t Hardly Wait.” The show would fittingly end with the Mats song complete with Westerberg taking a chance to light a cigarette during the song’s planned break toward the end.
Shockingly this wasn’t the end to the night. A line formed outside of Westerberg’s tour bus as he let 3 people at a time join him for pictures and autographs. As I walked onto the bus with my copy of my favorite Westerberg solo record Stereo he was sitting on a couch with his legs spread far apart with his sunglasses still on and the smoke slowly subsiding to reveal the aging rock star. I tried to be quick and let the line keep moving and don’t even remember what I said to him but the autograph sprawled over his own eyes on the blurry cover of my Stereo cd is more than enough to make me smile thinking back on that day.
Paul Westerberg setlist from The Grand Emporium in Kansas City, MO 3/4/05:
- Merry Go Round (Replacements song)
- Someone Take The Wheel (Replacements song)
- Live Forever (Billy Joe Shaver cover)
- Final Hurrah
- Kiss Me On The Bus (Replacements song)
- Knockin on Mine
- Making Me Go
- Let the Bad Times Roll
- No Place for You
- As Far As I Know
- Little Mascara (Replacements song)
- Born for Me
- High Time
- Valentine (Replacements song)
- Skyway (Replacements song)
- Here Comes A Regular (Replacements song)
- What a Day (For a Night)
- Achin’ To Be (Replacements song)
- Love Untold
- I Will Dare (Replacements song)
- I.O.U. (Replacements song)
- Alex Chilton (Replacements song)
- Left Of The Dial (Replacements song)
- Kansas City Star (Roger Miller cover)
- Can’t Hardly Wait (Replacements song)