The Replacements

For Sale: Live at Maxwell's 1986

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Depending on what night you saw them, the Replacements could be one of the greatest, most inspiring rock bands to ever take the stage, or a sloppy, sodden mess not fit for the cheap beer on their rider. While the good shows outweighed the bad, the Replacements' outsized consumption of booze (and other substances), their dramatic emotional ups and downs, and their collective self-destructive streak made them something of a crapshoot as a live act. And their reputation in this area was not helped by The Shit Hits the Fans, the cassette-only authorized bootleg that captured the 'Mats in 1984 stumbling through a set dominated by shambolic covers of songs they didn't really know. But thankfully, we finally have a document that confirms just how good the Replacements could be when the fates allowed. For Sale: Live at Maxwell's 1986 preserves a show the band played in Hoboken, New Jersey that was recorded by a 24-track mobile unit for a possible promotional live release. Since guitarist Bob Stinson was bounced from the lineup a few months later, that promo LP never materialized, but three decades later, the tapes were dusted off for commercial release, and the results are revelatory. Quite simply, this is a nearly perfect Replacements set; they are tight and focused, but not so much that it squeezes the life out of them, and they're full of energy and seemingly having a blast. The song selection pulls the cream from their first four albums, and the 'Mats attack the songs with plenty of crash-and-bash muscle and a surprising amount of nuance, as Paul Westerberg's vocals wring the very potent emotions from numbers like "Unsatisfied," "Bastards of Young," and "Left of the Dial." The snarl of Westerberg and Stinson's guitars is a thing of grimy beauty on these performances, and bassist Tommy Stinson and drummer Chris Mars drive this show like Casey Jones on steroids. This is the Replacements on an especially good night, though it still sounds like them and no one else; their unique mixture of "so what" snark and heart-on-their-sleeves vulnerability shines through at every turn. There are enough flubbed notes and forgotten lyrics to make this sound very much in the moment in a tiny club, but it's not ragged, it's just right, the way live rock & roll is meant to sound. And the engineering and mix are exactly what this band needed, loud and proud with just enough clarity to let the details come through. Near the end of the show, Westerberg declares, "I know this ain't the rockingest show of our career," but it sure boasts just about everything that made them one of the greatest rock bands of their day. Just as much as their very best studio work, For Sale is a invigorating, joyous, rollicking summation of a remarkable band on a night when they truly lived up to their legend. If you ever loved the 'Mats, you need to hear this.

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