Fall of ’87, living off of Hillsborough Street in Downtown Raleigh, I (Gerry) was excited to see my first Replacements show, which was held at The Bear’s Den, Mission Valley. They were out promoting their “Pleased to Meet Me” album. They were introducing their new guitarist, Slim Dunlap, who was taking the place of founding member, Bob Stinson, upon his firing. Pulling into the parking lot, I spied a tall, gangly, silhouette of a guy crossing the street to the club. He looked just like the promo pics I had seen of Slim Dunlap. I hollered, “Hi Slim”. He waved, and we knew. At the door to the club, the guy didn’t recognize Slim, despite his “Pleased To Meet Me” business card, and would not let him enter. At this point, Paul Westerberg, and Tommy Stinson, showed up from within the club, face-to-face with us and Slim. They explained to the door guy who he was. He was let in, and the show went on.
Georgia Satellites opened, and Dan Baird got in with The Mats (an affectionate nickname for The Replacements) for a few tunes. The Mats were full peak, glam-rock look at this point. The energy was insane. Two years later, I caught their show, promoting their “Don’t Tell a Soul” album in a slightly larger venue. Standing with the same buddies, watching North Carolina native, Tommy Keene, open, we realized Paul Westerberg was standing a few feet in front of us, smoking a cigarette, and enjoying the show. My buddy’s girlfriend wanted to ask him for a light, but was afraid.
Later during the show, I was walking down a long corridor, back into the arena from a men’s room visit. I came upon Paul, who had fled the stage, mid-song, for a pee break as the band played on. I was isolated, one-on-one with one of my music heroes. Just the two of us were in the corridor. He looked confused. I said, “Paul! The bathroom’s that way!” He said, “thanks”, and flew down the hall. The band were notorious drinkers, possibly the cause for the mid-song pee break. I did see The Mats one more time, on their final (’90-’91) tour, before their breakup. The crowd and venue were larger, and their stage security much tighter. No personal encounters with Westerberg this time.
The Mats have been referred to as one of the greatest bands that never was…much to their own doing. Their allegiance of fans knew this was a band that should have graduated to larger arenas, and bigger success, having the catalog of songs to back all that up. Bands such as Nirvana, Gin Blossoms, and Greenday, would have never been who they were without the influence, The Replacements, had on them. The Mats did receive much past due adulation during their 2013-2015 reunion tour. They played many large festivals and deservedly cashed in. Fun fact- Tommy Stinson, who was the bass player I mentioned earlier, went on to play bass for Guns N’ Roses from 1998-2014, and Soul Asylum from 2005-2012.
The Replacements’ legend has really grown in recent years, with many books and remastered recordings being produced. I am grateful for having experienced the early, brief, encounters, with Westerberg, Slim Dunlap, and Tommy Stinson, and those memories will stay with me always. I realized I saw a very special band, at a very special time.