Tommy Stinson talks Replacements history in Portland, performs in a Eugene living room
The Replacements have a “terrible fucking history” with the city of Portland, according to bassist Tommy Stinson. As for his time in Eugene, well, he doesn’t remember ever visiting the city.
On Dec. 7, 1987, the Minneapolis punk band played a notorious show at Portland’s Pine Street Theater that is often listed as one of The Replacements’ worst — a stunning feat for a band that is as well known for its classic punk albums as it is for its shambolic “off-night” concerts.
On that night, singer and guitarist Paul Westerberg swung from and destroyed a chandelier, the band threw a couch out of a second-story window and they fumbled through an incoherent bash of incomplete songs — though no one seems to really remember for sure.
Seattle band Young Fresh Fellows opened the show. In a 2015 interview with the Emerald, guitarist and singer Scott McCaughey recalled the madness of the night:
“Both bands were out of our minds and wanton destruction was in the air,” McCaughey said. “We’d spent a lot of time together that year egging each other on and this was the culmination. Not that the ‘Mats needed any help sinking their own boat.”
The Emerald sat down with Stinson on Friday, Oct. 21 before he and Uncle Chip “Sippy Fly” Roberts performed in a Eugene living room on the Cowboys in the Campfire tour. In a wide-ranging interview, Stinson discussed the Portland incident, the upcoming Bash & Pop reformation and why Tim Kaine’s admiration of The Replacements is getting old.
In a word, Stinson described his relationship with Portland: “Awkward.”
“We fucked it up so bad in the ’80s that I’ve always felt pins and needles coming through there after,” Stinson said. “I haven’t been in that shape that we were in the ’80s, fucking shits and giggles and shenanigans and everything else since then, but it still makes you feel kinda like, ‘Damn. I hope I’m OK tonight.’”
On the original vinyl pressings of The Replacements’ 1989 album Don’t Tell A Soul, the words “Portland. We’re sorry” are etched into the record. Westerberg also wrote an apology song called “Portland” that first appeared on the 1997 compilation album All For Nothing/Nothing For All.
Despite the band’s long history of botched concerts, the Portland show stands out to Stinson today because he felt the concert was an instance where the band went too far and let the audience down.
“There were a few times in our fucking sordid past where we had remorse for being total fuck-ups,” Stinson said. “Once in a while you feel like an asshole, and we had that. I mean, I can’t speak for Paul [Westerberg, singer, guitarist and songwriter for The Replacements], but I can speak for me, and I can remember there are a couple places: Houston was one, Portland was one.
“We let everyone down and it was a thing you just kinda remember: I don’t want to do that again. I felt terrible. It was not fun. And it was part of a legacy that you don’t really want to be held to, but it’s there.”
On April 10, 2015, The Replacements returned to Portland for the first time since 1991 and shattered the Portland curse in triumphant fashion at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom. They harnessed the sheer brilliance of Westerberg’s songwriting and the reckless nature of the band during its ’80s “Hayday” for the purest example of what a Replacements concert is supposed to be — loud, fast and verging on the brink of an imminent collapse.
After 21 years apart, The Replacements reunited for the 2015 Back By Unpopular Demand tour and played for the largest crowds it had ever seen, including a headlining set at Coachella. Even after two decades apart, the same issues that initially divided the band resurfaced.
“The ‘Mats, I think, we started out [the reunion] with a good intent,” Stinson said. “We had a lot of fun at first. I think the old problems that we had got right back in there. So that makes me say, eh. Maybe we should have stopped while we were having fun, it was still nice and cool, and everyone was stoked, rather than try to make more out of it than it was.”
For each stop of the tour, Westerberg wore plain white t-shirts with a single letter spray painted on the front and back. The final message read, “I have always loved you, now I must whore my past.”
“By the time we got to the end of that thing, Paul’s wearing these shirts and doing that whole fucking thing, and it’s like really? You’re whoring yourself out? We fucking just played for all these people,” Stinson said.
The Replacements currently have no future plans to tour or record.
In 2016, Stinson is aiming to connect with fans on a more intimate level with his Cowboys in the Campfire tour. He recently departed Guns N’ Roses after 17 years as its bassist, and now he is doing whatever sounds like the most fun. This tour has found him playing in basements, tattoo parlors and dive bars, to name a few.
“I’m not here to appease anyone,” Stinson said. “At this point in my life, at fucking 50 years old, I can do what I want, and I’m going to do what I want, and if I’m so fortunate that someone pays to see me do whatever I want, then I’m stoked; it’s great. If not, I’m still going to do it anyway.”
This is the second Cowboys in the Campfire tour, and the first to reach the Pacific Northwest. Roberts is Stinson’s ex-wife’s uncle, but he and Roberts have maintained their relationship after the divorce through a mutual love of cooking and music. Stinson called Roberts his best friend in the world.
“We just became tight, close friends, and he embodies a lot of what I love about a guitar player; that haphazard sort of balls to the walls kind of playing,” Stinson said.
In Eugene, Stinson and Roberts were scheduled to play at Barno’s Backyard Ballroom, a back patio concert venue at a home in West Eugene, but an unexpected rainstorm forced the show into the living room.
Opening band ShiSho, a comedy-folk-punk sister duo who recently moved to Eugene from Kent, Ohio, was able to perform in the advertised back patio, but during its final two songs, the rain increased and the gear needed to be moved out of the rain. ShiSho is Vivian, 19, and Midge Ramone, 16. Despite both being teenagers, they have been in the band for 12 years.
After Stinson instructed, “If you’ve got a free hand, grab some gear!” the crowd of about 30 people moved the instruments and equipment into the living room. Without a working PA system, second act Rachel Dean & Tim Gray performed a beautiful acoustic set with one guitar, two voices and a captivated audience.
At first, the crowd would politely part whenever Stinson approached, but after a few songs of Dean and Gray’s set, he made it clear that he was simply just another listener at the unorthodox venue — even if he was sporting a cartoonishly large straw hat and a black Western shirt.
By the time Stinson and Roberts took to the shag brown carpet stage at the newly declared “Barno’s Indoor Backyard Ballroom,” Roberts’s amplifier was working and he was able to plug in his white Stratocaster. This was the only amplified instrument of the set. Stinson sang without a microphone.
Although Stinson has spent the vast majority of his career playing bass, he doesn’t have a favorite instrument.
“Whatever you put in front of me I’ll fucking make noise out of,” he said.
This was especially true when he broke a string on his only guitar during “Not This Time,” the first full song of the night. After a brief pause, he spotted a red guitar hanging on the living room wall and asked for the crowd to pass it forward. Much like the living room itself, the wall guitar served as a sufficient backup.
With the borrowed guitar in hand, Stinson and Roberts resumed with a quick slide guitar lick leading back into the song. Stinson shouted multiple times for the crowd to “Get closer!” After spouting the command a few times throughout the night, one woman standing inches from Stinson asked, “How close do you want us to be?” He shrugged, unsure of the answer.
Roberts was likely a drink or two past prime functionality. At times he fumbled on the fretboard, but Stinson was steady all night. Together, the two covered a span of emotionally diverse material, from the rollicking 2015 single “Breathing Room” to the somber “Match Made In Hell.” The latter song concluded with Stinson fading out the song by whispering, “We’re a match, a match made in hell,” directly into Roberts’s ear.
Many of the songs came from Stinson’s solo albums with a few Perfect and Bash & Pop tunes tossed in. Roberts and Stinson also have some original material that will be on the new Bash & Pop album called Anything Could Happen, due out Jan. 20. Roberts and Stinson mentioned plans to release an album together in the upcoming year as well.
For “Zero To Stupid,” from 2011’s One Man Mutiny, Roberts played a modified pedal steel guitar. Stinson couldn’t prevent himself from laughing, citing the twinkling sound as a “giggle part.” As if on cue, when Roberts slid to a high note, Stinson busted out laughing and stopped playing. Roberts looked back with temporary disdain, fulfilling the onstage roll of the curmudgeon to Stinson’s cheerful leader.
After strumming the opening chords of Big Star’s “September Gurls,” Stinson stopped in his tracks when Roberts declined to play along. He quickly pivoted to the haunting “Nightime,” from Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers. Roberts happily complied with this song choice.
Roughly 45 minutes in, Stinson decided to explore the house, venturing out of the corner of the living room. He moved to the kitchen and played the introspective Bash & Pop song “Nothing” to a captivated audience of about ten people that fit through the doorway.
To conclude the show, Stinson played a solo version of the Bash & Pop songs “First Steps” and “Friday Night Is Killing Me,” from the 1993 album Friday Night Is Killing Me. Midway through the latter song, he tilted his head back in anguish and said, “You fuckers better vote or you’ll be stuck with this fucking nightmare. I’m afraid for my life.”
Stinson is a proud supporter of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, and Kaine has publicly professed his admiration of The Replacements on multiple occasions, citing 1984’s Let It Be as his favorite album. But Stinson admits that constantly being bombarded with messages about Kaine’s fandom is getting old.
“Every fucking day I get like 20 texts from my friends going, ‘Listen to what Tim Kaine said about The Replacements today,’” Stinson said during the interview. “I’ve heard it. It’s sweet, and I get it […] but I’m having an issue with it right now, maybe because I have other Replacements issues. I don’t know.”
The plug to vote didn’t affect the performance by introducing politics into the mix. Instead, as sweat dripped down Stinson’s face during “Friday Night Is Killing Me,” his anguish seemed heightened. His voice was ragged and worn from singing without a mic all night, but the song’s conclusion echoed his sentiment and fear of a Trump presidency: Friday night is killing me, and I don’t want to die.
He attempted a brief reprise of “First Steps,” but before reaching the chorus, he stopped and said, “I need a moment,” overcome with a sudden surge of emotion. An unplugged amplifier served as a temporary seat before he walked out of the living room for a few minutes. He had nothing left to give; he left it all on the stage — or in this instance, the carpet.
While Stinson was out of the room, Roberts mingled with the crowd and thanked everyone for coming. Offstage, he is a cheerful man who had nothing but love for the crowd and for his nephew Tommy.
A small line started to form among the 30 or so concert-goers who waited in the living room for a chance to meet Stinson. Most conversations ended in bear hugs and selfies, and Stinson had the biggest grin of anyone present.
“That’s Tommy fucking Stinson,” one fan whispered in disbelief to his friends while waiting to meet Stinson. He had his arms draped across his friend’s’ shoulders who looked back and smiled, unsure of how to respond.
“His music is just so good,” Vivian Ramone of ShiSho said about Stinson. “It’s like he reached into Americana and ripped out the heart — and that’s Tommy and his little guitar, singing a song.”
The next major project for Stinson is the upcoming Bash & Pop reformation.
Bash & Pop existed from 1991-1993 after the initial Replacements breakup. Stinson is the only original member involved, so it might sound strange for him to name the band Bash & Pop, but after sharing the new songs with friends, they felt a strong resemblance to the band’s 1993 album Friday Night Is Killing Me.
“No one said it sounds like a Perfect song [Stinson’s band from 1995-1998], or it sounds like Guns N’ Roses,” Stinson said with a slow chuckle. “So I said, ‘I guess I’ll call it Bash & Pop.’ That would be funny though, if I called it Guns N’ Roses.”
Much of the Anything Could Happen material comes from songs he and Chip Roberts wrote. The emphasis of the project was about making a live-sounding band album.
“All of the drums, bass and guitar, were cut live in a short amount of time, which captures the excitement of a new song, which is kind of the only thing that I know how to do that excites me,” Stinson said. “The total opposite end of that is sitting in a studio for ten years making a record.”
While this may sound like a bitter jab at Axl Rose and the Chinese Democracy sessions, he said he holds no ill will towards Rose or his departure from Guns N’ Roses. He has seen the reunion lineup with Slash and Duff McKagan perform twice, and he enjoyed it both times.
“I’ve got nothing but positive things to say today,” Stinson said. “I think no matter what, it would have happened anyway at some point. It was inevitable, and it should have, and I’m glad for them.”
The Bash & Pop tour will begin in January at Minneapolis’s 7th Street Entry. As for the continued longevity of the tour, Stinson said this band comprises a group of friends that understand each other personally and musically. He is hopeful this group’s chemistry is able to withstand the rigors of touring better than the first Bash & Pop crew; however, he is always looking for new ways to stay entertained.
“I don’t put all my eggs in one basket,” Stinson said. “I just fucking do my best with everything that I try and do, and have as much fun as I possibly can. That’s really all I know how to do. I could be playing kazoo sitting on a fucking corner on a beatbox, and I’ll still find a way to have fun.”
Watch the new video for Bash & Pop’s “On The Rocks” below:
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