- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

Anything involving the famously mercurial Paul Westerberg in a live situation is by definition unscripted and, therefore, unpredictable. But I’d wager no one anticipated a performance of “Paul Westerberg Idol” at the ex-Replacement’s Friday night late show at the 9:30 Club.

Yet there was our contender, introduced only as “Andrew,” belting out Replacements faves “Alex Chilton” and “Left of the Dial” with rock-and-roll-fantasy-camp abandon. Five minutes earlier, Andrew had been hustled from the stage by club security staff. Mr. Westerberg’s bassist, Jim Boquist, had other plans for the stage invader.

After re-emerging for an encore, Mr. Westerberg (Judge Westerberg?) was in a Paula Abdul (as opposed to a Simon Cowell) kind of mood. He pronounced himself pleased with Andrew’s performance, though in more colorful terms.

Friday’s 2 hour odyssey through Mr. Westerberg’s songbook — he played Replacements must-do’s such as “Can’t Hardly Wait” and relatively obscure ones such as “Achin’ to Be” as well as material spanning his 10-plus years as a solo artist — had a shambolic, tossed-off quality that made it feel close to the edge. On one side of that edge is the sloppiness that’s part and parcel of the spirit of great rock music. On the other side is just sloppiness.

Mr. Westerberg took the stage to the sounds of Frank Sinatra, smoking a customary stogie and dressed in a black-and-white-striped jacket with a silly red ascot. He got ostensibly looser through the evening and hit more bum guitar notes than an amateur on open-mike night.

His band (dubbed His Only Friends), especially drummer Michael Bland, kept the show, and Mr. Westerberg, from descending into chaos. (At one point, guitarist Kevin Bowe begged his boss not to play Southern rock covers after an interlude of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post” came from nowhere.)

An unpredictable set list included segues into Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” a cover of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” abandoned stabs at Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and stray quotes from Rolling Stones songs. Mr. Westerberg laughed through lines, forgot others and invented new ones on the spot. Mr. Boquist, a human teleprompter, occasionally filled in.

Some numbers came off perfectly, as though (it’s a possibility) they had been rehearsed. “Making Me Go” and “As Far As I Know” burst forth as if they had been trapped on the tour bus all day. “Knocking on Mine” hurtled like some forgotten Faces classic. “Love Untold” sounded like an arena-rock hit from the parallel universe where Mr. Westerberg actually became the star he was perpetually just around the corner from becoming.

Like Mr. Westerberg’s entire career, Friday was a half-empty, half-full kind of night: How great or how disastrous it was depended on how you feel about Paul Westerberg.

And whether you knew Andrew.

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