ON DECEMBER 7, 1987, the Replacements played a show at Portland's Pine Street Theatre. It did not go well. The show was such a disaster that Paul Westerberg wrote a song about it ("Portland," which appeared on a B-sides collection), and the runout groove of the Replacements' 1989 album Don't Tell a Soul has the words "We're sorry Portland" etched into the vinyl.
The Young Fresh Fellows opened that fateful gig, along with many other 'Mats shows—and they'll be opening Friday night's show at the Crystal Ballroom, the first Portland performance since the Replacements' 2012 reunion. YFF's Scott McCaughey tells us—as best as he can remember—about that particular evening and the long-standing relationship between the two bands.
THE REPLACEMENTS AND THE YOUNG FRESH FELLOWS: a match made in hell. We were two somewhat like-minded combos, but that doesn't mean we were always good for each other.
Our first meeting was in Providence, Rhode Island. We thought we were opening the 'Mats show at the Living Room and were overly excited at the prospect. Arriving at the club we were informed that there were three other bands on the bill, none of them us. Undeterred, we joined Paul [Westerberg], Tommy [Stinson], Bob [Stinson], and Chris [Mars] backstage and massacred a bottle of gin and about 100 "greenies" ('Mats-speak for bottled Heineken) while the local bands plied their trade onstage.
When the headliners got their turn, they were not fully up to the task. After 45 floundering minutes they aborted the mission, and Commander Westerberg, resplendent in marinara sauce, announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Young Fresh Fellows!" to thunderous silence. We leapt up and took over, giving the puzzled crowd a full 10 minutes of rabid incompetence. God, it was loud. Show over.
Paul took to saying great things about the Fellows in numerous interviews, and even convinced the Replacements' booking agency to take us on as well. So it came that we embarked on a West Coast tour together in July 1987. The 'Mats had just signed a major label deal, swapped maniac guitarist Bob Stinson for the more grounded Slim Dunlap, and were to play two big sold-out shows in front of the label honchos and new management in LA.
The band responded enthusiastically with a very poor showing the first night. No doubt inspired by our intense opening set, which included a moving rendition of "Your Mama Don't Dance," the Replacements' set was a shambles. Chris Mars, often the more sensible imbiber in the group, had completely incapacitated himself and abandoned the drum throne after a few songs. YFF sticksman Tad Hutchison donned a black wig and tried his best as a replacement Replacement, but he wasn't in much better shape. Heads rolled. Both bands rebounded with beguiling sets on the second night, however, as Nicolas Cage and Tom Waits looked on.
Fast-forward five months and the two aforementioned swingin' parties were convened in Seattle for a second West Coast run—the mascara barely dry from the last one. Sharing pre-tour drinks in the 'Mats' hotel bar, it was put forth that the foray might be more interesting minus eyebrows. All four Replacements and one idiot Fellow went upstairs and shaved the offending facial hair clean off. In hindsight I advise against this—turns out eyebrows do have their usefulness. They take forever to grow back, and also you look like a cretin without them.
The tour ended on December 7 in Portland with a bang, or a whimper, or maybe it was a death rattle. After tearing up San Francisco's Gift Center the night before, getting to the Pine Street Theatre on time for sound check left very little time for sleep. As is often the case when exhausted on tour, band members looked to substance abuse in an effort to get suitably up for a performance. We all tried REALLY HARD to get up for the performance, starting the minute we arrived. By showtime it was already getting pretty ugly. I may be wrong, but my (yes, very foggy) memory of the YFF set was that we were crippled. I do know that it ended with the Replacements storming the stage, taking our instruments, and morphing "Hey, Good Lookin'" into "Silent Night." Rousing!
In the break, Tommy or somebody said it'd be funny if they played their set in the same clothes we had played ours in. Dutifully, we all swapped clothes. I didn't quite fit into Paul's pants but it seemed a trivial detail at that point. Anyway I could hold them up with one hand and still have one hand free for wrecking stuff. I'm sure YFFers Chuck Carroll and Jim Sangster also had this problem, as the Replacements didn't ever seem to eat, and the Fellows typically demanded Taco Bell on our rider. Besides a medieval costume garment of mine, Paul took the rest of the clothes from my tour bag with him to the stage—as backup I suppose, like having a spare guitar. That would be the last I would see of said clothing, as the band stripped down during their set and jettisoned item after item into the audience. I hope somebody got good use out of them... although the smell might have diminished their desirability, even as souvenirs.
I'll be honest—I just don't remember a lot of that night. I know the dressing room couch went out the window, and in my mind's eye I can still see Paul swinging from a chandelier and falling flat on his back when it came out of the ceiling and landed on top of him.
Blood in the bathroom. Mustard and meat stuck to the walls. No encore.
And now the Replacements return to Portland, with the Young Fresh Fellows again in tow. Encore! We are all oh-so-much older and perhaps slightly wiser now.
Or not. I'll just say I'm sorry now and get it over with.