Though the immediacy of "I Will Dare"'s first loping chords would suggest otherwise, it's been nearly a decade and a half since Paul Westerberg fronted the mythically sloppy, booze-fueled Replacements. Which is longer than he was even in the group. Westerberg has been on his own for a while, but after recording his last three albums by himself in the basement of his Minneapolis home, the reclusive songwriter is reaching out. Sort of.
Minnesota's most enigmatic songwriter since Bob Dylan left Hibbing is about to take a band across state lines for the first time in eight years. For many, Westerberg's dozen years with the Replacements solidified his post as the voice of his generation. The group released some of the most important albums of indie rock's glory days (see: Hootenanny and Let It Be), putting forth Westerberg-penned anthems of loneliness and strained desperation ("Within Your Reach" and "Unsatisfied") alongside irreverent, often juvenile humor ("Gary's Got a Boner").
But Westerberg's older now. Born on the last day of the 1950s, he's married to former ZuZu's Petals guitarist Laurie Lindeen, and they have a six-year-old son, Johnny. His solo work tilts more toward wry love than rebellion, and after contracts with Sire/Reprise and Capitol failed to produce the pot of gold at the end of the radio, his last three discs -- his basement tapes, as it were -- were released by the independent label Vagrant.
The cult figure also admits that fatherhood has had an effect on his art. "If I'm struggling for an idea and I know [my son]'ll be home from school in 15 minutes, that'll make me want to finish it quicker, rather than have him come in during a vocal break," Westerberg says. "So he's taught me to speed it up."
After 2002's Stereo, the first of his home recordings, Westerberg took to the road -- just man and guitar -- for a string of in-stores and concert performances. But it was a short homestand last fall, in support of his most recent release, Folker, that convinced him to try the band thing again.
"It felt so good, you know? We played three shows in Minneapolis, and they all sold out and they were bootlegged extensively, to the point where I thought, 'Well, if this many people want to hear this, then let's take it out on the road and see what happens,'" Westerberg says. "You can't beat having some buddies onstage."