Martin Devaney was making a list. Sitting in his St. Paul dining room last Friday, the singer-songwriter sighed and took a sip from his can of Hamm’s, secure in its SuperAmerica coozy. “If anyone reads about this, they’re going to give me a hard time. ‘Why did you play that for her? Why didn’t you play that?’ This is hard.”
A minute later, Martin’s time was up: the front door opened and in walked Katie Sisneros, a woman who had never heard the Replacements. “Well,” she clarified as she sat down in front of a stack of vinyl, “I might have heard something at some point, but I don’t know the Replacements. I couldn’t sing any of their songs.”
With the Minneapolis music legends set to cap their 21st century comeback with a show at Midway Stadium and a gig on The Tonight Show, a Facebook discussion had led to this meeting: a late-afternoon listening session at which Martin, a Replacements superfan, would initiate Katie—a 28-year-old Nebraska-bred writer (she and I blog together on The Tangential) and U of M grad student—into the world of the ‘Mats.
Martin pulled his Replacements records from the shelf, but, he said reluctantly, we’d be listening to CDs. “My turntable needs a new belt,” he apologized. “If you don’t want to tell people we were listening to CDs, you don’t have to.”
Katie and I each accepted a whiskey-on-the-rock from Martin (“Sorry, I have literally two ice cubes”), and we were ready to begin. “Since this is for the website of a radio station,” said Martin, “we’ll start with ‘Left of the Dial.'”
“Is that where the Current gets ‘Theft of the Dial’?” asked Katie, and I nodded my head yes. “Ah,” she said. “I’m learning so much already.”
“This is from Tim,” said Martin, who’s in his 30s. “It’s probably my favorite Replacements record, and it was the first I ever owned. I was at Cheapo, and they were playing this. I asked, who is this? They kind of looked at me sideways and were like…um, the Replacements? Since then they’ve been pretty much my entire life.”
Martin drummed on the table with a pen as we listened. “Playing makeup, wearing guitar,” he repeated from the song lyrics. “That’s very typical of Paul Westerberg—inverting phrases.”
“Whaddya think, buddy?” Katie asked Martin’s dog as it jumped into her lap. Turning her attention back to the music, she said, “I can see why people are so excited—though I would find it hard to sing along with this. I’m very into singing along.”
“That may change,” said Martin, “but later on. Now I’ll play a song from their first EP.” He took the disc from the Stink case and handed the case to Katie.
“‘Gimme Noise,’ huh?” Katie said, reading the song list. “I’m learning a lot about where the names of musical things around here come from.”
On the boom box, the ‘Mats roared into “God Damn Job,” which begins “I need a god damn job/ Oh I need a god damn job/ I really need a god damn job/ I need a god damn job!”
“Good lyrics so far,” observed Katie. “I like the sentiment. This is more yell-y.”
“This is their attempt at being a hardcore band,” explained Martin. “They were trying to keep up with Hüsker Dü, but they just weren’t that band.”
Reaching for Don’t Tell a Soul, Martin said, “This is a record from the other end of the spectrum—their one glossy major-label record. I think it’s unfairly maligned. It has some great tunes, and Slim Dunlap is on it.”
“When did this come out?” asked Katie.
“I was two.”
As “Achin’ to Be” played, Katie tipped her head to listen. “The vocals sound like a lot of other bands,” she said, “but I suppose that’s because everyone’s imitating the Replacements.”
“Yeah,” acknowledged Martin, “they were definitely more influential than successful. They’ve always had that underdog appeal. Every band kind of has a we’re-trying-to-be-the-Replacements phase.”
“I noticed the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia cast parodied one of their album covers.”
“I mean,” explained Martin, elaborating on the band’s influence, “the Replacements had a song called ‘Never Mind’ years before Nirvana’s album. That whole Seattle grunge thing in the 90s—the Replacements were doing it in ’85.”
Announcing that he was going to play a Replacements ballad, Martin reminisced about playing some of the band’s quieter songs at First Avenue’s annual Replacements tribute shows. “It’s a Replacements tribute, so everyone’s going all-out, because that’s kind of the spirit of the thing, and I had to play ‘Skyway’ on Dave Campbell’s 12-string guitar at the end of the night to a packed Mainroom. I really had to keep it together.”
“How’d it go?”
“I pulled it off all right. A couple of people said they cried, so I guess I did my job.”
“I’m going to have to turn Twitter off on Saturday night,” said Katie, who doesn’t have a ticket to the Midway Stadium show, “aren’t I?”
Martin nodded. “It will be like when Bob Mould played the Entry,” a recent show Martin had to miss while many of his friends live-tweeted the whole thing. “That was rough.”
“Skyway” began playing. “This is the thing with Westerberg,” said Martin. “He can write this, and he can write ‘God Damn Job.’ Not everyone could do that.”
“This one is the most vocally appealing,” said Katie. “Or maybe I can just hear it the best.” She paused. “It’s a little Conor-Oberst-y.”
“How dare you!” Martin shook his head in despair.
“You know more about the Replacements than I know about anything,” said Katie. “And I’m getting a Ph.D. in something.”
We had time for one final song. “This is from Let It Be,” said Martin. “They named this after the Beatles album just to bother their manager, who was a huge Beatles fan.”
“That seems like the best possible reason to do it,” said Katie.
“I have the book about this album on my shelf next to the one about the Beatles album.”
Knowing Katie to be a Decemberists fan, I pointed out that the Replacements book had been written by Colin Meloy. Her eyes went wide. “That Colin Meloy?”
“Yeah,” said Martin. “It’s sort of the story of how he discovered the Replacements.”
Katie picked up Martin’s vinyl copy of Let It Be. “Who wrote THIS RECORD IS GOD?”
“Some guy,” shrugged Martin. “I bought that record used. The same guy wrote on one of my Hüsker Dü records.”
“This guy looks a little bit like Knol Tate,” said Katie, pointing at Bob Stinson.
“Ha!” Martin picked up his phone. “I’m texting that to him right now.”
“I liked that one the best,” said Katie as “Unsatisfied” ended.
“They’re a hard band to cover,” said Martin. “You want to get ragged—but not too ragged.”
Our five-song introductory playlist had concluded. “Thanks, Martin,” said Katie. “That was educational.”
“What did you think?”
“Yeah, I could see myself getting into these guys when I was 15 or 16.”
Before I left, I snapped a photo of Martin’s Post-It playlist. Later, he sent me a heads-up via text message. “We deviated from my Post-It note playlist by one song! Which is actually pretty Replacements-like…”