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Sexy Mother Folker

Paul Westerberg is a legend, and we’re lucky he can even stand up straight. (Come to think of it, at his ridiculously packed Amoeba in-store a couple years back, he did lie down on the couch in the fetal position for a sec.) Westerberg, 45 — godfather of grunge and ex–Replacements front man — returns for two nights in support of his fifth solo LP, Folker (which Mojo called one of ’04’s best 40 records). This’ll be his last L.A. gig for a while, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be slacking: He’s got songs in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown and will contribute scoring and voice-over work to the forthcoming animated movie Open Season. On the eve of a West Coast mini-tour with a new band — including former members of Son Volt and the New Power Generation — Westerberg talked by phone from Minneapolis. L.A. WEEKLY: Your Amoeba in-store in ’02 was one of the biggest in-stores they’ve ever had. That’s gotta make you feel pretty good. WESTERBERG: It does. I remember specifically Johnny Ramone was there. I was pleased to see that. That was quite a long set of ragtag tunes. Are there any songs in your catalog that are a little too painful to play? Painful, yeah. I don’t like playing “Unsatisfied” — and that’s one of the ones I played at the Amoeba thing. It’s just one of those screaming, kind of painful Nirvana angst-ridden things that if I’m known for only that song . . . then in my opinion I’m nothing. Speaking of Kurt, I read you guys once rode in an elevator together and were sort of freaked out by each other. We . . . we . . . we didn’t speak. I think he was in his own world, and I’m not sure he knew who I was. I didn’t know what to say, you know. He didn’t know what to say, so we said nothing. Any other fond memories of L.A. shows? I remember some of the first L.A. shows [the Replacements] did at the Cathay de Grande opening for Social Distortion. We played at the Roxy . . . I was at that Roxy show — ’86. Thelonious Monster opened for you. It was one of the classic Replacements sets ending with “Rock & Roll All Night.” And there was a show at the Variety Arts Center where [drummer] Chris Mars was so drunk you had to replace him with the drummer for the Young Fresh Fellows. Yes. I remember getting all the blame for that one. You got the blame? Sure. I was supposed to be controlling my bandmates. I remember they pulled down the curtain on us at the Palace. I remember the ceiling fell in on us at the Palladium. I think your quip was, “We’re really bringing down the house.” Exactly, we were. I heard the Replacements had considered reuniting for Karl Mueller’s benefit in Minneapolis last October [the Soul Asylum bassist has throat cancer], but it fell through. Yeah. The major issue was, if we do that, then everyone is going to come out of the woods and the promoters are going to offer us lots of money, and we’ve always prided ourselves on not doing it for the money. And Chris is the most stable and the one who has moved on from the group and created his own career as a visual artist. He’s not about to put it down and go out and play drums for three months. So if Chris should ever want to go out and play rock & roll, I think we would be game, but without him I’m not even considering it. Tommy [Stinson] and I actually played in L.A. just three weeks ago — he came down with [drummer] Josh Freese and we [recorded a song] for Open Season. And that was strange. I hadn’t seen him in about eight years, and we hadn’t played together in that long. But it was just like it was yesterday. I didn’t have to tell him what key it was. So did that kind of patch things up a little? Oh, he and I love each other. It’s like we don’t call each other, we don’t see each other play. When I actually did play the Karl benefit, by myself, after the band sorta didn’t want to do it, Tommy was across the street at the time having dinner with his daughter. So it’s, like, it’s very Mick and Keith. One guy will be playing and the other guy’s around the corner shooting pool. Going back to that ’86 Roxy show — you guys were like lightning in a bottle. I’m still amazed your label didn’t know what to do with you. Anyone who had seen us at least three times probably had a glimpse of what we were capable of. My only fault was the ones who saw us but the one time in Houston when we couldn’t stand up. The next night we knocked ’em dead. You have to see two or three. Two or three were the prerequisite to see what sort of shape we were in, and how ready we were to blow the roof off. I remember specifically, before we would go on sometimes we’d say, “Should we let ’em down or blow the roof off this fucker?” It would usually be an argument, sometimes we’d all be in agreement, like, “down!” And we’d just do our best to irritate the audience. Did it work, or did they even notice? Oh yeah, we got booed and bottled and heckled. I’m not looking for that now. I’m not riding with that outfit. I’m just like “please the fans.” I have a hot band and I’m gonna use ’em. And my voice is strong. And I’ve got a couple of cool shirts. Other than that, it’s rock & roll. Paul Westerberg plays February 22 and 23 at the Henry Fonda Theater, and visits “Jonesy’s Jukebox” Tuesday afternoon on Indie 103.


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