'Meet' the 'Mats

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER | Updated 12/6/2012

Annual Replacements tribute tackles 1987 LP 'Pleased to Meet Me.'

The Melismatics practiced recently in the basement of Ryan Smith's St. Paul house.

Last year, the Melismatics had to learn the 18 tracks from the Replacements' scrappy, whirlwind 1981 debut, "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash." Said Kathie "Pony" Hixon-Smith, "Those were just crazy songs, with no real rhyme or reason to a lot of the guitar parts or song structure."

The focus for Friday's fifth annual Replacements tribute, 1987's "Pleased to Meet Me," presented a new challenge: "These songs are a lot more logical songwriting-wise and really very sophisticated," husband/bandmate Ryan Smith said, "but they're disguised to not seem so sophisticated."

With "Pleased to Meet Me" being the obvious choice for this year's centerpiece given its 25th anniversary, Sonia Grover, First Ave's chief talent booker, and David Campbell, a DJ from 89.3 the Current and one of the participating musicians, sat down to plan this year's tribute shortly after last year's ended. They line up all the bands and songwriters who play four- or five-song tribute sets before the main set, drawing on the Replacements' other records. They also brainstorm which local musicians might sing certain songs.

"Not just anybody can sing a song as special as 'Can't Hardly Wait,'" said Grover, referring to "Pleased to Meet Me's" closing track. "We put a lot of thought and effort into it, probably more than we have to, but that's just because we're such big fans of the [Replacements] ourselves."

To maintain the element of surprise -- and Grover's good will -- we're not reporting which singers rehearsed which songs last weekend, but we can at least tell you who was there.

Curtiss A showed up before our arrival and dropped off cookies for everyone. Lucy Michelle, who was born the year "Pleased to Meet Me" came out, rehearsed a song she didn't even know a month ago. ("But when I heard it, it made a lot of sense why they asked me," she said.) John Swardson of the gritty garage-rock band Get Gone had done his particular song many times before, but as he learned last year -- when he joined the house band to fill a last-minute hole -- winging a Replacements song is not so easy. Heck, the Replacements themselves proved that on many an off night.

Who wasn't at rehearsals might be just as noteworthy. When one song reached a lull, Smith interjected, "That's where the sax will go." Also, at least one singer won't be able to rehearse until Friday's soundcheck.

Unlike many of the musicians performing sets around the "Pleased to Meet Me" portion of Friday's show -- including Story of the Sea, Pink Mink, Red Daughters and Mad Ripple Hootenanny leader Jim Walsh -- the Melismatics aren't fanatical Replacements fans. They're just a solid, versatile band that works well with others.

"It's always a fun challenge learning these songs," Smith said. "We probably have as great an appreciation for them now as anyone else."