Ex-Replacements bassist Stinson rears ‘Head’ with Shank concert

It's almost too easy to overlook bassists in a typical rock band.

They usually make their in-concert homes in the less-than-glamorous digs found somewhere between the drum kit and the side of the stage. The guy working the spotlight from the rafters seldom finds them, and when he does it's usually only a temporary accident. After all, if the band's guitarist likes to wander during his ear-piercing solos and manages to cross paths with his bassist, what's a spotlight operator to do?

But Tommy Stinson, who co-founded highly influential post-punkers the Replacements when he was merely 13-years-old and now claims membership in Guns N' Roses, isn't your garden-variety bassist.

When the 'Mats called it quits in 1991, Stinson traded in his bass for guitar, vocal and writing duties in two short-lived and under-appreciated pop-rock acts, Bash & Pop and Perfect. While neither of the bands took off, they helped Stinson earn a healthy dose of critical acclaim and a new crop of diehard fans — not too shabby for a guy who saw most of the praise for the 'Mats go to his late guitar-playing brother, Bob, and singer Paul Westerberg.

Stinson released his solo debut, Village Gorilla Head, this summer. The album, which took Stinson five years to record, finds the middle ground between its creator's flashes of relevant pop brilliance while in charge of Bash & Pop ("Without A View," "OK") and more ragged, 'Mats-reminiscent rock ("Not A Moment Too Soon," "Couldn't Wait").

Stinson will play a set supporting Village at 8 p.m. Sunday at Shank Hall. Former Perfect guitarist Dave Phillips — now a member of the Catholics — will join Stinson for the predominantly acoustic show.

Stinson, who will pull from his new album, the catalogues of Bash & Pop and Perfect and select covers during the show, said fans shouldn't expect to be lulled to sleep by a slew of mellow songs.

"We'll be bringing our amps," he quipped. "We're not just going to play totally f—cking dreary versions of them."

New and longtime fans alike should find plenty from Stinson's new album to enjoy, and part of that might be because Stinson had so much fun recording it. Stinson started the project in his basement studio, recording with friends like Phillips and current Guns N' Roses mates Dizzy Reed and Richard Fortus before finishing the album off in the personal studio of the Pixies' Frank Black.

He was also able to go at his own pace thanks to his lack of a record contract. Stinson said he enjoyed taking full advantage of the creative freedom he was afforded without record company executive's keeping an eye on his every move.

"Because I was paying for it out of my own pocket, I was a lot freer to experiment and do things I wouldn't normally do under the umbrella of a record company," Stinson said. "They tend to limit that by being on top of you all the time or wanting you to give them something that you're not really able to give."

Stinson found plenty of time to work on the CD because membership in Guns N' Roses doesn't afford the same regular gig opportunities it did in the band's glory days. He's been a member since 1997 and has been onstage and cut tracks with the band, but Stinson still hasn't appeared on record courtesy of a lengthy delay in releasing the Axl Rose-produced Chinese Democracy.

But when Rose lets him know the album is done, Stinson said he'll be ready to hit the road.

"It is dangerously close to coming out," he joked. "All I do know is that for sure when it does come out we'll use whatever form of transportation we can and get behind it — even if it's an ice cream truck."

Tommy Stinson plays at 8 p.m. Sunday at Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell Ave. Tickets are $10 if purchased in advance, $12 at the door. More information is available at www.shankhall.com or by calling 276-7288.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Jan. 20 2005.