On Sept. 25, 1990, the Replacements released their final record, All Shook Down—the same day Superchunk released their self-titled debut. Nearly 25 years later, rock worlds will collide again when Superchunk opens the May 9 Philadelphia show on the Replacements’ tour. Knowing singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan and drummer Jon Wurster count the Mats as a favorite band, we convened them—as well as bassist Laura Ballance, who has retired from touring due to hearing issues, and her, uh, replacement, Jason Narducy (Split Single, Bob Mould)—for an e-roundtable (candidate for WordHate™?) about their fandom and what this gig means to them. (Guitarist Jim Wilbur didn’t respond to multiple requests. Maybe he doesn’t like Replacements. Or us.)
How important are the Replacements to you?
Wurster: Everybody has that one band they most identity with and claim as their own. For me, the Replacements were that band. (OK, Hüsker Dü was my other band.) I remember sitting in Dead Milkmen guitarist Joe Jack Talcum’s bedroom in early 1984 and hearing “Color Me Impressed” for the first time and really being affected by it. To my ears, it was one of the first great blends of punk snarl and pop melody by a band from my generation. From then on, I was a fan. I bought their records as soon as they came out and went on road trips to see them live. The Replacements were the musical embodiment of the all the crazy, mixed-up feelings you experience in your late teens and twenties. They were the perfect mix of bravado, fear, anger, humor and mental illness—I can say that because I’m a crazy person, too. Did I want to be in the Replacements? Let’s just say I ran to a Dallas-Fort Worth Airport pay phone the moment I heard Chris Mars was out of the band and called their managers to plead my case. Sadly, I was too late.
McCaughan: The records from Let It Be through Pleased To Meet Me were hugely important to me, as well as the earlier ones when I went back to find them after Let It Be came out. I think what’s so key about the Replacements is that they were hard to define. At that time, I loved a lot of hardcore bands, and I loved a lot of pop bands and new-wave bands, and I still loved the classic rock I grew up with—but you couldn’t classify the Replacements. The idea that you could be a band that couldn’t be classified was radical.
Ballance: The Replacements are hugely important to me and probably influenced my life in ways I can’t even express. I first heard them in 1984 when Let It Be came out. I went and got that record and listened to it over and over. It expressed this pain and loneliness that I definitely felt as a 16 year old. I feel like I saw them play at the Metroplex around that time, but I can’t actually find any confirmation on the internet that they played there. I definitely saw them play a show later at the Skate Ranch in Raleigh. They were unbelievably drunk and it was a mess of a show, but it was so fun. It helped me to realize that punk shows didn’t always have to be so serious. Most bands at the time postured in a way that conveyed toughness and that to be punk you had to play fast and loud. The Replacements had some of that, too, but also they were goofy and vulnerable and were just as likely to play a beautiful, well-crafted pop song as a hardcore one.
Narducy: They were an important band to me because I heard Tim when it came out my freshman year in high school. They didn’t sound like any other band I’d heard previously, and they had an absolute perfect pop song in “Kiss Me On The Bus.” My friends and I could call them our own.
What does it mean to you to open for them?
McCaughan: It’s kind of crazy and unreal, but I guess it’s the kind of thing that happens if you manage to be a band long enough. I feel lucky that we get to do it.
Narducy: It means I actually look forward to going to Philadelphia.
Wurster: How often to you get to open for a band that was and continues to be such a big part of your life? Back in 1984, I was drumming in a Philadelphia-based band called Psychotic Norman. One day, our bassist Tom announced a well-intentioned, yet slightly misguided, plan to convince the Replacements to play a show in his cramped suburban basement in between the band’s Trenton and Philly Let It Be tour stops. Psychotic Norman would, of course, be the opening band. You’ll be shocked to learn that the basement show never materialized. To make up for it, and to capture the feeling of what could have been, I’ll be playing our opening set at Penn’s Landing flanked by Tom’s mother’s washer and dryer.
What’s your favorite Mats record and why?
McCaughan: It’s too hard to choose. I go back and forth between Stink and Let It Be and Pleased To Meet Me, which was the last tour I saw.
Wurster: The two that immediately come to mind are Pleased To Meet Me and Hootenanny. For me, they’re the ones that best embody the spirit of the Replacements, but every one of their records contains top-shelf songs. Even the All Shook Down-era Don’t Sell Or Buy, It’s Crap EP has one of their greatest shoulda-been-a-hit songs, Tommy Stinson’s “Satellite.”
Narducy: Tim because it’s so strong top to bottom and has such a wide variety of songs. There are anthems like “Bastards Of Young” and “Left Of The Dial.” There are pop songs like “Kiss Me” and “Little Mascara,” a ballad in “Here Comes A Regular” and a schmaltzy, swinging, sneering tune in “Waitress In The Sky.” Apparently, “Can’t Hardly Wait” almost made it on this record. Holy. Shit.
With the band or otherwise, have you ever crossed paths with the Replacements?
McCaughan: As a band, I don’t think Superchunk has crossed paths with them. It’s weird that our debut came out as their last record did.
Wurster: Never in Superchunk, other than Tommy coming to a show we did at the Roxy in L.A. around 1997. The band I was in five or six years before joining Superchunk was managed by the same guys who handled the Replacements, so I’d get some fun glimpses into their world when I’d stop by the office: a quick spin of Please To Meet Me rough mixes; a peek at a handwritten card announcing the birth of Tommy’s daughter; catching bits and pieces of our manager’s end of a phone conversation with recently fired Bob Stinson about severance pay. This doesn’t make me sound creepy at all, does it? I’ve run into Tommy several times over the years, and he’s always a true gentleman. I’ve never told him any of this stuff, so please make sure this page is blocked from his computer.
Narducy: I avoided seeing the band in the ’80s because my friends would go see them and complain that they were too drunk and only played four songs, and those four songs were covers—done badly. When you’re in high school, 20 bucks is a lot of money to gamble on a concert. I probably should have gone anyways. In 2013, I went to dinner with my friends Dave and Kathleen Philips. It wasn’t until I arrived at the restaurant that I realized Tommy was with them. He’s the only one I’ve met and talked to.
Laura, when you found out about this show, did you think about telling Jason to take a hike so you could play it?
Ballance: I still haven’t heard from any of my bandmates that they’re playing this show! Bastards! I just heard about it the other day from Christina (Rentz) here at Merge. And hell yes, it occurred to me that I should play it, but then I realized I could still go and not have to actually play. I might.
Jason, you’re a replacement in a band opening for the Replacements featuring replacements. Thoughts?
Narducy: (Replacements drummer) Josh Freese and I will be participating in the dunk tank before and after the show. Full cans of Summit beer will be thrown at the target and at us.
What are the chances Superchunk ends up onstage with the Mats during their set as they play “I Hate Music”?
McCaughan: I’ll let the pros handle that one.
Narducy: My guess is that this is on Paul Westerberg’s bucket list.
Wurster: Wouldn’t you rather see me moonwalking and hammering a cowbell during “Asking Me Lies”?