There are fewer musical concepts more fraught with the potential for disaster than “a live record from the Replacements.” The famously combative and inebriated ‘80s Minneapolis band could be brilliant onstage. They could also be an embarrassing, half-assed, drunken mess, not giving two shits for their audience, their music, or themselves. No band has ever been greater at self-sabotage.
Fortunately, the just-released For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 (Rhino) is a joy to hear. While portions of this gig have circulated among ‘Mats fans for years on bootlegs, this professionally-recorded show arguably captures the band at its performing peak. And not counting a limited-edition cassette, it is their first proper live album.
Over 29 tracks, the original foursome – Paul Westerberg (vocals/guitar), Bob Stinson (guitar), younger brother Tommy Stinson (bass) and Chris Mars (drums) offer up material from all five of their albums to date. It contains a mash of their best-known material (“I Will Dare,” “Color Me Impressed,” “Bastards of Young”), rarities (“Otto” “I’m in Trouble,” “Dose of Thunder”), highly interesting covers (Vanity Fare’s “Hitchin’ a Ride,” KISS’ “Black Diamond,” Sweet’s “Fox on the Run”) and even one future-classic unreleased at the time (“Can’t Hardly Wait”).
“On a good night, they were amazing, but you had to catch them on that night like here. I think this represents the best recording with Bob Stinson in the band,” says Bob Mehr, who wrote the liner notes for this release and is the author of the wonderful bio Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements.
It’s a minor miracle this record is even out. After an, um, memorable appearance on Saturday Night Live where the band cursed on-air, wrecked their backstage
For the venue, they decided on a club the band felt comfortable in and had played at many times before – Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey – with several hundred fans in attendance.
But rapid changes within the group doomed any thought of releasing the results. Bob Stinson would be ousted from the group for rampant drug abuse just six months after the gig, and the group was eager to begin work on their next studio album and Sire debut, Pleased to Meet Me. The tapes stayed in storage until 2007, when they were mixed for a planned release that would tie into Rhino’s already existent reissuing of the band’s catalog. That never happened, until now.
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“I think the show is really consistent all the way through with a lot of energy. It’s the perfect Replacements show you can have in 1986 because it draws from everything they’d done up until then,” Mehr says. “But for me, it’s the stuff from the first two albums that really stand out. They may even exceed the originals.”
Mehr also says that Bob Stinson’s guitar work on the record is really highlighted, both in his interplay with Westerberg and his solos, which come through with a high level of ferocity and clarity. Stinson seems to have a freedom onstage he did not in the studio. Unfortunately, he would die in 1995 at the age of 35. The official autopsy report stated it was due to natural causes, but Stinson's heavy substance abuse was undoubtedly a big contributing factor.
Still, Mehr says that For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 is worth the wait. “It’s a nice thing to see come out after 30 odd years!” he laughs, noting that perhaps the band put a little extra effort into the gig knowing it was being recorded. Though there are plenty of starts, stops, and chaos in evidence.
“Paul even makes some wisecracks about ‘burning the tape.’ The band was aware they were being recorded, and I don’t know if that propelled them or not. But it makes you see how great a band they were. And I don’t know any studio record that caught the Replacements as perfect as you could have caught them onstage. There was just an energy, a power, and a volume