The Replacements' 'For Sale: Live at Maxwell's 1986': What It Was Actually Like That Night
Journalists and insiders share memories of the recently unearthed, incendiary live concert.
There have been plenty of concert bootlegs of The Replacements circulating over the years, some as revered as the proper albums, but the newly released For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 blows pretty much any black market title you’ve cherished all these years clear out of the water.
Recorded on Feb. 4, 1986 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ, utilizing the same 24-track mobile studio truck that captured U2 at Red Rocks for Under A Blood Red Sky, this show jumps out through the speakers, giving you the feeling of being packed into that little back room of the legendary punk rock club watching the genius/madness unfold before you. But to actually be there amongst the lucky couple hundred on that winter night in the mid-'80s, a little less than five months following the release of their Sire Records debut Tim, was a moment that cannot be properly replicated by listening to a CD or LP.
“I think the Replacements certainly had an affinity for Maxwell's, its owner Steve Fallon and the crowd they'd draw there,” 'Mats biographer Bob Mehr tells Billboard. “They'd played the venue on their first East Coast tour in '83 and it became a regular stop from then on. When Warner Bros. decided to record them, it made a lot of sense to put them in an environment that would be familiar and comfortable -- and so Maxwell's was the place.”
Fans have long turned to titles like The Shit Hits The Fans, Puttin’ On The Ritz, Shit, Shower & Shave, It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Roadies Play for a taste of the 'Mats infamous live shows. But For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 marks the first time an official full-length live document has been made available to the wider public. What jumps out most is how incendiary the late Bob Stinson was as a lead guitarist. When his scales clashed with Westerberg’s chords in the kind of unity on display this February night in 1986, Maxwell’s was lucky the fire marshals weren’t called in, especially during the group’s spirited covers of T. Rex’s “Baby Strange” and a killer rip through Sweet’s glam anthem “Fox On The Run.”
“I didn't see them in '86 but....you'd have to say the band was at a kind of peak when they came into Maxwell's that night,” states Mehr. “They'd just released their first major label album, had five records and diverse catalog of material draw on, and had been playing together for six years at that point, the previous three heavily on the road. When they were locked in, and they were locked in the night of the Maxwell's recording, they were probably the best rock n' roll band in the world.”
Following the release of For Sale, Billboard spoke with some patrons of the old Maxwell’s who were in attendance the night of this concert.
Jim Testa, music journalist: I'd say two things. First, if you didn't see the Replacements with Bob Stinson, you never really saw the Replacements. Secondly, the 'Mats played Maxwell’s four or five times and always blew us away, out of respect for the club and Steve Fallon. So many fans only know the band from The Shit Hits the Fans, I'm really glad now that there's a testament to what an amazingly tight and ferocious live band they could be when they wanted; which wasn’t often enough, unfortunately.
Jim DeRogatis, music journalist: My buddy Jim Testa and I never missed a Replacements show in the New York area, and certainly never one at Maxwell's; we were there the first time the band played, circa Sorry Ma, when the group was done but Paul Westerberg wasn't, so he invited some Mohawk-sporting hardcore punks up onstage to play "Louie Louie" with him on drums for another half hour, and we were there this night, too. Editor of the immortal Jersey Beat fanzine and the first guy to ever publish my rantings about rock n' roll, I bet Testa already said this, but the Replacements always gave 110 percent at Maxwell's, partly because owner Steve Fallon treated everyone so well and made everybody feel so welcome, but also because they were saving the drunk trainwreck show for the next night, when they'd play in New York and all the industry bigwigs would turn out. (As Bob Mehr points out in his wonderful biography, the band never missed an opportunity to shoot itself in the foot, career-wise.) In any event, this evening was one of the brilliant 'Mats shows that illustrate so thoroughly why all of us cared then, and still do today.
Steve Fallon, former owner of Maxwell’s: Hoboken became a community for a lot of musicians in the '80s. They came from all over the country and ended up either moving there or being there part-time. There was a built in comfortability to that room, and when a band came through they didn’t feel like they were walking into some strange place where nine out of ten times when you’re walking into a club that’s what you are heading into. We fed them and treated them with dignity. For Tommy Stinson, Maxwell’s was such a home to him, when his mother came to town he would take her there for dinner. Some of the ongoing stuff I’ve seen online about some of the stories in Trouble Boys about why the band fucked up so much, and what it really came down to was that they responded to being treated poorly. It wasn’t a matter of being drunk, it was a matter of, "If you’re gonna shit on us, we’re gonna shit right back on you."
Glenn Morrow, recording artist/owner Bar/None Records: The Replacements had played Maxwell’s a number of times at that point. One time I got Steve Fallon to let They Might Be Giants open for them. TMBG in turn wrote “Hi We're The Replacements” after that -- a song that solidified their standing on the college charts a year later. With any Replacements show you always wondered which band would turn up to play but they generally put on excellent shows when they played there. I’d been collecting board tapes of the band for about three years at that, point turning people on to them whenever I could. So there was a lot of anticipation for an actual 24-track recording of their live show. The ecstatic connection that happened between the 'Mats and their fans is still my favorite version of that shared experience. They had a great quantity of material to choose from that night: all the early punk and hardcore stuff but also some of their more mature work like “Unsatisfied,” “Left of the Dial” and “Answering Machine.” I’ve always thought their arrangement of Vanity Fair's “Hitchin’ A Ride,” which they played that night, led them to craft “Can¹t Hardly Wait.” You can hear the blue print in there in the way they rock the bones of that AM gold.
Michael Hill, former Associate Director of A&R for Warner Bros.: I’d always get very nervous about them performing, because of the way they would behave, including on this particular Maxwell’s show. But what impressed me was not what they were doing because they really honored their material and their legacy -- they didn’t screw it up or fuck around with the audience like they’ve done in the past. But what impressed me was the audience on that night, and how important those songs were to them, and how much they internalized them and made them their own. That was very moving to see all these people of various ages singing those songs. It just proves how great those tunes were and still are. And now hearing this live recording after all these years is really funny because in ’86, I remember having the usual anxiety of what was going to happen before they hit the stage.
Julie Panebianco, former Alternative Marketing Director, Warner Bros.: The first thing I recall about the night the 'Mats recorded at Maxwell’s is the giant recording truck parked outside in the cold, it looked about as big as the backroom of the club -- it sorta seemed like my friends had “arrived” -- the music business had come to them! Anyhow the mood downstairs -- which was in effect, the storeroom for coffee and flour and cases of beer was also the backstage area -- was pretty lively, Bob content and smiling and hanging up my coat! Chris was Chris, Tommy was antsy, and Paul was trying to sell me this dance move he was convinced would take off, The Collapse! It sounds like what it was, you took a step forward, and a step back your leg would buckle. It was a good move for him, for others, not so much! I also remember they were doing their customary “if we go down, we’ll go down together” toasts -- the complete opposite of the Beatles “to the tops!” chant. I watched the show in the back on one of the rises: It was sweaty, exciting, messy and moving -- and when Paul sang “Nowhere Man," one of their finest covers in my opinion, I got kind of emotional -- I was mesmerized. It remains one of my favorite recordings of theirs, and when I started working with them at Warner Bros, a month later, the highly prized cassette of this show was my welcoming gift.