Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"I'll Be You" -- The Replacements vs. Throwing Muses

This is the story of one of my fondest memories of my time at the University of Maryland Record Co-Op.

It is also the story of a battle between The Replacements and Throwing Muses. Read on!

Common promotional glossy of Throwing Muses from that era; I'm pretty sure I had a few copies of this lying around The Record Co-Op

In early 1989, both bands had released albums on Sire, the Muses putting out their third full length, Hunkpapa and the 'Mats putting out their third album on a major label with Don't Tell A Soul, also on Sire.

I was, and am, a fan of both bands and I'm also probably one of the very few people who can say, with a straight face, that I think that Don't Tell A Soul is the equal of the band's earlier Pleased To Meet Me -- maybe *not* the equal to Tim, though.

So when both bands were set to play D.C. the same night in early April 1989, I had a choice to make: would I go see the 'Mats for the first time at the Warner (I think) with most of my coworkers or would I go see the Muses for the 2nd time?

I should also note that the first show I ever saw at the old 9:30 Club was Hugo Largo opening for Throwing Muses in late 1987. I recall Kristin Hersh's penetrating stare into the lights as she sang, almost like she was hypnotizing herself, and Mimi Goese from Hugo Largo singing a cover of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" as she peeled off t-shirt after t-shirt -- in my mind it seemed like a dozen but it was probably only about 4!

As the store was on very good terms with the majors -- especially Warner Brothers labels like Sire -- it was a given that free tickets would be forthcoming no matter which show I chose. But, obviously, I was going to see the Muses again and use the label connection we had at the Co-Op to make sure I got to meet the band.

I purchased the pictured copy of Rimbaud's Illuminations and worked the final shift at the Co-Op that Thursday night -- just like normal -- only filled with excitement at seeing and probably meeting one of my favorite bands; I think a Sire label rep had told me on the phone that he'd be there to take me backstage (not a hard thing to do at the old 9:30 Club, in any event). So, rather than just be another autograph seeker, I wanted to give Kristin Hersh something meaningful and the Rimbaud seemed like a good choice.

So, I get to the show, meet the weaselly record company guy, and enjoy the concert. I forget who the opening band was but it might have been Shadowland or Big Dipper -- I know I saw Big Dipper probably 4 times in that Record Co-Op era.

I should state for the record that not all record company reps were weaselly; in fact, the college reps for RCA/BMG, Arista, and Capitol were pretty cool and awesome and very much fans of the music they were promoting. And the rep for CBS was a former coworker of mine from the Co-Op who had made the leap from label rep/intern to a real employee of said record label.

But this Sire or WB guy was the stereotypical label guy: florid shirt, balding but with a ponytail -- exactly the sort of guy who would never get the Muses or their music. He was nice, but not exactly on the same wavelength as the fans in the audience.

Not that I was ever that outwardly cool or hip, but even I was a bit embarrassed that I'd have to go backstage to meet the band with this representative of The Man next to me.

The show was great, maybe not as magical as when I had seen the band in 1987 with Hugo Largo, but still memorable already.

I was far in the back of the club, near the section between the entrance and ticket window, where the bar starts, as the Muses were nearing the end of their set and I look over and there's Tommy Stimson from The Replacements with Tommy Keene next to him! Just standing there watching the show. Not only that, but Tommy Stimson was dressed exactly as he was in the "I'll Be You" video -- bowtie too!

So I go over to Stimson, explain how I had wanted to see the 'Mats but didn't, how all my coworkers were probably at his show (which had ended by this time, obviously), and how much I loved the new album. I think I got him to autograph a ticket stub for my coworker too.

As for Tommy Keene: he's the legendary power-popper from D.C. who got signed to a major label (Geffen), almost broke big, and then continued to put out quality work for another few decades. I could do whole blog posts about him. And I saw him again shortly after this, backstage at a Matthew Sweet gig. But that's a story for another time.

So, shortly after this meeting, I go backstage, and meet Kristin Hersh and the rest of the band. It's hard to remember now but, at that time, Tanya Donelly was not quite the presence she would become with Belly in 1993. She wrote maybe one or two songs per Muses album (usually my least favorite songs on those albums) and it wasn't until "Not Too Soon" in 1991 that her Muses tracks seemed to become as memorable for me as the Kristin Hersh-penned ones. Donelly had worked with The Breeders on their first album in 1990 but I don't recall anyone raving about that album except for British music journalists and maybe me mainly due to the cover of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" with Kim Deal and Tanya harmonizing.

In my youthful exuberance, I gave Kristin the pictured copy of Rimbaud's Illuminations -- like she had never read *that* before? -- chatted with her a bit and then stumbled out into the night; I also remember meeting some girl from Northern Virginia who was really into Frazier Chorus (which was a weird band to be into in America in that, or any, era).

And I vividly recall that Kristin and Tanya were dressed exactly the same as they were in this MTV interview segment -- maybe they had just returned from NYC before their D.C. gig?

Kristin Hersh continues to put out great music as a solo artist, with 50 Foot Wave, and with Throwing Muses from time to time.

Here's an NME review of the Muses from that same tour.

For good measure, here are the two videos of the moment in April, 1989.

Throwing Muses "Dizzy

The Replacements "I'll Be You"