It takes a special musician to perform a shambolic, flub-laden solo set in an unopened, unfinished record store with a shitty PA and send 600 people home happy. Easy Street Records’ new location, which didn’t formally open until a few weeks later, was the setting for Paul Westerberg’s first live performance in six years, the first in a series of in-store shows and album signings. “This is to whet my appetite for the notion of coming back and playing shows if I feel it,” he told the Austin Chronicle. “Am I playing in Austin? It’s a long way off. Maybe I’ll do the first one in Seattle and say, ‘Fuck this,’ and go home.”
Curiously, Westerberg did wind up canceling his Austin appearance, reportedly because of exhaustion, which might seem far-fetched for a tour of this kind, except that in Seattle — and at every stop along the way — he stayed, talked and signed for every last person, easily spending two to three hours giving a personal moment to his fans, most of them still card-carrying members of the Replacements fan club.
Onstage (appropriately, a garage door frame in the back of the store), Westerberg assayed fourteen songs with varying degrees of success but persistent, self-deprecating charm. He opened with a deliberate “Best Thing That Never Happened” and gained confidence transitioning to “Lookin’ Out Forever”, introduced as “another song from my flop before this one” and tagged at its end by a lovely guitar coda and a quote from “Once Around The Weekend”. He then shifted straight into the tender “Lush And Green”, which itself ended back where the kindred trio started with a quote from the chorus of “Lookin’ Out Forever”.
“Waiting For Somebody” (from the soundtrack of the Seattle-set film Singles) further buoyed his poise and energy, after which he set the stage for the rest of the night by telling the crowd he would keep the “new ones” to a minimum, “so buy the new record and I’ll play some old shit.” Of the new ones he did play, there were heartfelt readings of “No Place For You” and “We May Be The Ones” (another kindred pair linked by the line “just add water, someone’s done for/I’m done for”) and “Let The Bad Times Roll”, which he called his favorite from the new album. Earlier, an attempt at “Only Lie Worth Telling” was abandoned after one verse, in favor of a spirited cover of Dylan’s “All I Really Wanna Do”.
The set closed with a crowd-pleasing visit to the ‘Mats’ “I Will Dare” (one less-than-confident verse into which Westerberg exclaimed, “Help me if I’m wrong, I don’t fucking know!”), “Swinging Party” and “Someone Take The Wheel”. But the most memorable moment arrived during an unlikely acoustic take of “Alex Chilton”. At the song’s crucial line, “Never travel far/Without a little Big Star,” he milked the couplet for all it was worth, and instead of “Big Star” subbed in “uh, Ryan Adams” and blew a big raspberry. It was a classic Westerberg moment in a show where 600 folks were reminded why ragged is sometimes quite all right.