During a recent rendezvous by two Minneapolis rock vets at a club in New York, Kraig Johnson got to hear Tommy Stinson talk about the fun he’s had putting his old band the Replacements back together. Lo and behold, though, it’s Johnson’s group Run Westy Run playing a First Avenue reunion gig at year’s end and not the Replacements, as many fans anticipated.
“Sorry, it’s just us,” quipped Johnson, who returned home to the Twin Cities this week to prep for his band’s first shows in 15 years.
Clearly, there are plenty of local music lovers excited to finally see the Westies again. Ticket sales for Friday’s First Ave show were swift enough to add a Saturday gig at the Turf Club.
Founded in the mid ’80s by Johnson and his brothers Kirk and Kyle from St. Louis Park, Run Westy Run never made the big splash outside Minnesota like the ’Mats, but it did ripple through cool circles and enjoyed a strong following in town. The hard-blasting, psychedelic art-rock band recorded two albums for famed punk label SST and another for Twin/Tone with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart producing. You’d be hard-pressed to find those records outside of a local used bin (even the Web is devoid of them).
The Westies were better known for their famously unpredictable, adrenaline-filled live shows, the last of which was probably sometime in 1998 at the 400 Bar, though even the band members have trouble remembering.
“There never was any clear decision to end it or any kind of blowup,” Kraig said by phone from New York, where he has lived for five years. “We just all kind of got involved in other things.”
Kraig joined the Jayhawks in the late ’90s, then Golden Smog, then started his own band the Program before relocating to New York, where he plays solo gigs and backs Joseph Arthur and former Wild Colonials singer Angela McKluskey. Kirk, the group’s primary singer, started the short-lived but ahead-of-its-time electro-pop band Iffy, also well remembered by many local fans, and is now working as a visual artist and writer in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The rest of the lineup for these shows will include Kyle Johnson and drummer Bob Joslyn, both of whom stayed in Minneapolis; Kirk’s primary Iffy collaborator Tommy Merkl, who now lives in Amsterdam but is coming home for the holidays; plus lead guitarist Terry Fisher, who organized the reunions from Duluth.
“I’d call [the Johnsons] every so often to inquire and/or inspire,” Fisher explained, mentioning past attempts to reunite going back to a New Year’s Eve gig in 2000 and First Ave’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2010. Things just fell into place this time.
“It’s sort of out of the blue coming this year, which I like,” said Kirk Johnson, who sounded hesitant to call it a reunion. “I’m not interested in trying to relive the band’s heyday or go back to that time. I’m really just interested in being in a room with all these guys again, and seeing what happens.”
The Westies were always a free-spirited, go-with-the-flow band without much of a broad game plan, even by Minneapolis music standards. “None of us ever really gravitated toward the business side of things,” Kirk admitted, seeing that as a bit of a curse but also a blessing since “we never based our lives around the band making it big.”
That adventurous spirit will carry over to this weekend’s shows. Kraig and Kirk have new songs they hope to perform, as well as some of the trove of songs that the band recorded in the mid-’90s but never released, including an entire album for A&M Records. There’s talk of trying to cobble together some kind of reissue package, but for now the merch stand will only be stocked with whatever the Johnsons still have in storage, including CD copies of their last EP, “Cockroach Park,” and some 7-inch singles.
“We know people are going to want to hear certain old songs, and we hope to give them a good mix of that stuff,” Kraig said, “but we’re really doing this for ourselves more than anyone else.”
In that sense, then, it will be just like old times.