Rock & Roll

“So get off your ass and come down here
‘Cause rock ‘n’ roll ain’t no riddle man
To me it makes good, good sense”

Rock & Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution

Long is the argument about whether or not rock and roll is dead. Personally, I find it is in the ICU and while not necessarily on life support it can appear to code (as in code blue) every now and again. Being the infinite optimist I am (yes, I am being serious) I think it may in fact one day walk right outta the hospital. Leading that charge towards the exit may in fact be Tommy Stinson.

There are two people who embody the essence of rock and roll for me, Keith Richards and Tommy Stinson. Keith Richards for obvious reasons, and not for the drug and alcohol abuse reasons or for the fact that we share the same first name (although it does increase my cool cred exponentially). He never seemed to buy into the bullshit that Jagger did. He was, and will always be, Keef. And Tommy…what can be said about Tommy Stinson? The guy has had a career most people could only dream of. Founding member, at the ripe old age of 13, of seminal rock band The Replacements. The ‘mats went on to tear up and apart the burgeoning college rock scene of the 1980’s, along with R.E.M., fellow Twin City natives Husker Du, Black Flag, etc. No, the ‘mats  never did achieve the mainstream success they should have, mostly because of their own self destruction. God knows the talent was there.  When the Replacements called it a day, he went on to start Bash & Pop, then Squirrel and finally, in what perplexed the most die hard matheads, he became the bass player in Guns n’ Roses. Rock and roll is all this guy has EVER done. And THAT in and of itself is so rock and roll. While Stinson is not the household name that Richards is, he is just as spirited and passionate about his music. And much like Richards, he has spent his career playing to the side of formidable front men, Paul Westerberg, Axl Rose and Dave Pirner, in addition to leading his own group of misfits throughout the years.

I’ve seen Tommy play with every band he has been in. The Replacements in 1987, then in 1990 and 1991. Soul Asylum in 2008. Guns n Roses in 2011 and last night, I finally got to see him perform solo at Union Hall in Brooklyn, New York. What a fuckin treat, but more on that in a second. Allow me a a mild detour into the world of the opening act, Trapper Scheopp and The Shades. I am old enough to remember the opening acts were always shitty, or poorly paired with the headliner (Blue Oyster Cult and The Ramones, anyone?), but here? Great bill, and this little roots rock band from Milwaukee was  spot on. They had clearly ripped out the chapters of the rock and roll handbook that highlighted The Replacements, Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown. If you like that shiz, you will like these kids. They’re that good. Trapper Scheopp and The Shades, check them out and buy their stuff.

Union Hall in Brooklyn is tiny. I mean really small. I had never seen a show there before, but having played bocce upstairs numerous times (note: that means it is big upstairs) I was struck by how incredibly intimate it was. I was looking forward to the intimacy and after hearing Trapper Scheopp, I knew the sound was spot on. In between Trapper Scheopp and Tommy taking the stage, he walked by me a few times. Neatly dressed, as he always is. Last night it was a black suit and red t-shirt, spiked hair and chained wallet. His solo look. I am no fanboy so I am not gonna bother the guy. He’s at work. But it was tempting. But what the fuck are we gonna chat about?

So what can I really tell you about the show? It was a rock show. Tommy came out, played an acoustic number, then brought the band out and played a really solid representation of his solo catalog. The band was solid and he was engaging and funny if not entirely in great voice. But then if we are really honest, he doesn’t have the best voice. He has the rugged voice you’d expect a guy 30+ years in the business to have. He’ll never be a consultant on any of the God forsaken “talent” shows. I’m not gonna bother you with the set list, you wouldn’t know the songs. Hell, I barely knew them, but I was extremely pleased to hear “Never Aim to Please” off the Bash & Pop album Friday Night is Killing Me. Yea, that song is sort of a personal favorite of mine, guess why.  But alas, myself and the 40 odd former college DJ’s ate it up. I cut out before the encore, so I am not sure what he finished with. If I had one criticism, it would be that whole encore business. There weren’t that many of us there, just bang it out and leave. Enough with the games already.

But here is what makes Tommy so rock and roll. The guy is a work horse. You see, a few months ago he is playing in front of 70K people with GnR at the Rock in Rio festival, does a club tour in the states with them, he releases a solo album, takes a week off to do a solo tour, is in the studio helping Soul Asylum put the finishing touches on their new album, has time to raise funds for Haiti. Sure, these are not high profile gigs, GnR notwithstanding, but he works. How many people in his position, with his legacy, 30 years into their career would still be putting in that kind of effort? I submit to you, not a fuck of a lot of them. Hell most people who don’t have that legacy don’t work that hard, I’m talking to you Nickelback! The guy works. And he’s good. He’s not the world’s greatest bassist, guitar player or songwriter, but then I don’t think he aspires to be. Tommy does what Tommy wants to do. And he does it well. I am a die hard Replacements fan and when he joined Guns n Roses, I was a little put off…until I kept seeing photos of him in his trademark zoot suits. It made me realize that to him, that was just a gig. I sighed a little sigh of relief and accepted it.

There will be the die hard fans who think he continues to sell out by playing with Guns n Roses. There are those who will think it odd he plays bass for Soul Asylum (this is not so odd, Dave Pirner and he went to high school together and both The Replacements and Soul Asylum came up in the Minneapolis scene). There are those who may think he’s not that great. And lastly, there are those that ache for a Replacements reunion. In true rock spirit, I don’t think he cares. He’s simply Tommy Stinson, rock and roll troubadour. He does what he wants. Tommy is..well, he’s Tommy. And the rock and roll world remains a little more honest and real with him in it.

I’d nominate him for President, but I suspect he wouldn’t want to be bothered with that sort of foolishness.