Friday, September 20, 2013

America's Best Terrible Band: The Replacements - The Shit Hits The Fans

I have alluded in the past to the idea of walking in on the world's greatest rock band while they are just jamming somewhere without giving a shit.  Well, The Replacements are undoubtedly the most fitting group for that description.  While being a talented and incredibly influential group of musicians, they are often remembered as a band who could be mindblowingly great one night, but an absolute trainwreck the next.  Their infamous concert bootleg The Shit Hits the Fans is the greatest known recorded demonstration of the latter.  The fan-recorded collection, of which only 10,000 original copies exists, puts The 'Mats on display in all of their brilliantly sloppy, embarrassing, unhinged, warts-and-all glory.

The Shit Hits the Fans was recorded late in 1984 at The Bowery in Oklahoma City, by the club's then manager Roscoe Shoemaker.  'Mat's frontman Paul Westerberg's response to Shoemaker's request to record the show, "Why?  We SUCK" apparently qualified as enough of an approval, and the show was recorded by two microphones to a cassette tape.  In between the live performance for around 30 fans and the recording we know now, the tape was supposedly confiscated from a fan by a roadie, confiscated by that roadie by Shoemaker, and partially corrupted due to Westerberg accidentally pressing the record button.  Worry not however, for better or worse the recording remained mostly intact…and this is only the beginning.  

The show starts out as a relatively normal set, albeit sloppy and unorganized as per the 'Mats nature.  It starts out reasonably enough with the raucous cover of Lawdy Miss Clawdy before hinting at the coming chaos with an absent-minded string of cover songs (including lil' Michael's I'll Be There) and the odd original choice of Lovelines.  They hit their stride though with the rapid-fire foursome of original songs Sixteen Blue, Can't Hardly Wait, I Will Dare, and Hear You Been to College.  As the band just barely holds it together through this handful of original songs, they noticeably become increasingly incoherant, and this is where things get interesting.  

 From that point on, the 'Mats played exactly zero original songs, as they had been reduced to painfully struggling through a never-ending series of classic rock covers.  For anyone who, through hindsight, is in on the "joke", it is absolutely hilarious.  Westerberg improvises entirely new, mumbled and/or screamed lyrics to Iron Man and Misty Mountain Hop.  Songs are inexplicably aborted mid-verse.  On more than one occasion part of the band is playing an entirely different song than the rest and they eventually are forced to bring it together, with cringe-inducingly entertaining results.  My personal favorite moment is when Paul gleefully introduces the next trainwreck as "Jumpin' Jack FLASK!?", and proceeds to launch into what could loosely be called a Rolling Stones "cover", which is quickly aborted, but I have to think is something that Keith Richards would have no choice but to be proud of.  The whole thing is a hilariously terrible display, but in a twisted way is a great encapsulation of rock music, considering the vast majority of bands that drunkenly bang through shitty covers in their garage without a care in the world.  The recording has no ending.  It fades into audience chatter (during which Westerberg seems to repeatedly mishear an audience request for a "Beatles" cover as "Freedom?") and a choppy twosome of quickly aborted Beatles and Zeppelin covers bring the whole aural massacre to an end.

If nothing else, this bootleg is a testament to the unique version of greatness via relatability that The Replacements have achieved.  A familiarity of the band at their best reveals a group of uncannily talented musicians and vocalists, with the ability to capture the heart and soul of a lost generation, from the aggressively discontent anthems to the ernest emotion of their stagnancy.  It becomes a fitting contrast therefore, to hear that very same band at the peak of their ineptitude, the crutch of alcohol that had been used during their desperate yet futile search for meaning reducing them to an inside joke at best.  At the end of it all, you are left with...well, this.  And you can take it or leave it.  

All told, The Shit Hits the Fans is enjoyable without guilt for the sake of listening to a band that couldn't possibly give less of a shit (pun unintended).  Put into context however, it is the sound of a great band crippled equally by societal restraint and self destruction.  Whatever the case, the explosion sure is beautiful.

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