Tommy Stinson: Pleased to Meet Him

His face is an ever-changing map of the rock attitudes...Tommy Stinson at Southpaw

Brooklyn, February 3, 2005

For diehard Replacements fans, voyeurism can be the motive for seeing Tommy Stinson on tour for his first solo release, Village Gorilla Head. How has the elfin bass player fared? What’s up with becoming the bassist for Guns ‘n Roses? Has Tommy gone metal? Is he a lost soul, a rock and roll ghost?

Far from it—striding through Brooklyn’s Southpaw he’s wiry and alert, a puckish survivor of 2 1/2 decades in rock, sporting tight black jeans and a cheekily anachronistic punk hairdo. Almost as boyish looking as when he started at age 13, 38-year-old Stinson took the stage and threw himself into an impassioned, no-nonsense performance that converted a subdued crowd into a throng of noisy believers. If there were any doubts about his abilities (and really, doubts were why it was so interesting to be there), Tommy banished them with his authoritative guitar playing, mature songwriting and striking, husky voice. From the beautiful ballad “Light of Day” to the clever wordplay in the Dylanesque “Hey You,” it was clear that Tommy has moved out of the sidekick role forever.

Shadows of the Replacements remain. Tommy absent-mindedly threw a metal-esque fist into the air to punctuate the ending of a serious song, and periodically flashed the audience an “I don’t mean it” grin. If these gestures recall the compulsive self-deprecation of former bandmate Paul Westerberg, there are other echoes too. Tommy is a deft lyricist in his own right and he crafts inventive, catchy melodies. But there’s a Westerbergian resemblance in both theme and mood. In interviews, Tommy readily identifies Paul as an influence. Reviewers cite other ones—the Rolling Stones, Big Star, the Faces (but hey, they were all Replacements influences, too).

In truth, Tommy is a little hard to read. His face is an ever-changing map of the rock attitudes he grew up absorbing— from the brutish sensitivity of his late brother, Bob Stinson, to the good-time preening of Rod Stewart, to flashes of John Lydon’s suspicious glare and even the aloof beauty of Kurt Cobain. But something hard and reserved in Stinson stares out from behind the rock echoes. We, in turn, stare at him endlessly, trying to parse the trim, muscular body, the choir-boy haircut, the mixture of bravado and sincerity.

Maybe he’s been stared at too much. Where he revealed his heart was in his songs. By the end of his set he’d told us so much about disillusion, tattered hope, and stubborn belief that no one could wonder what he was all about. If anyone still did, his encore in the crowd, at the bar, with an unplugged acoustic slung carelessly across his body, settled the score for good. “I’m just a one-man guy,” he sang, head back, posture relaxed, unguarded at last. The audience crowded around him, charmed and protective. Yet even with Tommy Stinson singing straight into your face from about two feet away, you felt a certain respectful distance from him. He is a one-man guy. He’s had to be.

You can listen to some of Tommy’s new songs at his MySpace page.

7 thoughts on “Tommy Stinson: Pleased to Meet Him”

  1. Wow, Kristy, you’re lucky to see a guy who is his own type of legend at such a young age. All of us ‘Mats fans who still need to catch some form of Tommy live are jealous. Thanks for the great review. Did he do any Bash ‘n Pop material, or Perfect material? How did it translate to an acoustic setting (assuming the song wasn’t acoustic to begin with).

    I think someone oughta do a Glorious Noise Interview with Tommy… I’d imagine he’d have some good opinions.

  2. He did do some Perfect songs. I think he did a few from Bash and Pop. Mostly it was his new album. But like many Paulites, I guess I’ve sold Tommy short by not following his post-Mats career very closely. So I can’t really comment on how the acoustic set-up affected his songs.

    He is a great interview. There’s one I found online where he talks about how selling photocopier toner over the phone made him a new man. Also, Murph, he’s touring pretty extensively, so there’s a good chance you can catch him soon.

  3. Man, how did Tommy survive? With guys like Paul Westerberg and his brother Bob influencing him at a young age, you’d think the poor guy would’ve ended up a junkie or something. Glad to hear he’s doing so well.

  4. great article, first of all. i’ve been lucky enough to see tommy live twice as a solo artist. he’s awesome!! he’s put on an amazing show both times. if he comes anywhere near you, go and see his show, you’ll be glad you did.

    the acoustic setting gives the songs from vgh a different sound, but they are still great songs. i personally like the acoustic style. i heard most of vgh acoustic for the first time, so the album cuts were so different for me, lol. it was funny, i hadn’t heard anything of tommy for years, and i just happened to stumble upon a show he was playing in colubus, ohio, in 2003. it was such luck, i had left osu and was heading down high st and on the marquee at little brother’s it said….tonight…tommy stinson. needless to say i stopped and went in and asked the doorman if it was, in fact, THE tommy stinson. when he said yes, i just had to stay for the show! so glad i did, i’m glad to have found his solo music, it’s great!

  5. Side note: did any one see Westerberg on the Late Late Show? He looked and sounded dreadful, wearing a hoodie and sunglasses and his voice was shot to shit. Pedestrian would’ve been too nice. Very sad. Does anyone know the story here?

  6. Thought he looked great and his band sounded great. The voice was ragged but right. Nice to see someone on late night TV jumping around a little bit and making a jackass out of themselves, instead of standing around looking like 20 year old imbeciles who are barely competent on their instruments whining about some jibberjabber. Gimme the folk star!

  7. I actually saw Bash & Pop in Long Beach at some bar in 1991. I can’t remember the name of the place it had “pycho clowns”, looking neon lights??? Anyways, it was a great show. Never forget it!

Leave a Reply