Concert Review: The Replacements, RiotFest Toronto, August 25 2013
There has been excitement and there has been anxiety and there has been sheer fucking joy leading up to this first Replacements show since 1991. I walked through the gates of RiotFest and had a moment. I had another one when I purchased an official t-shirt. It was one of those I can’t believe this is actually happening but it is actually fucking happening moments that just well up and take your breath away.
I didn’t know what to expect when the boys finally walked out on that stage. Would I burst into tears? Would it fall flat? Did it possibly stand a chance of meeting my expectations?
The answer to the last question was a hearty FUCK YEAH, said with as much volume and emphasis as you can muster. The pre-show tape cut out and the four walked on stage, Paul and Tommy nattily dressed in button-down shirts and jackets, and after some patter – I was not going to take dictation today – they careened straight into that cascading volcanic eruption that is the intro to “Takin’ A Ride,” and it was sheer utter bliss. It was sizzling. It was perfect. It was tumbling down the hill into another dimension. It was another time and yet it was very much RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson are on that stage and they are playing that song.
Go through that all over again with “I’m In Trouble.” If you had asked me what two songs they would come out and open with it would NOT have been either of those, not by a long shot; I would have also placed long odds on them even showing up in the setlist. Those were the types of songs people would give them shit for not playing back in the day. So, here you go, motherfuckers, these goddamn songs, and we are here and we are TAKING NO PRISONERS.
“Favorite Thing” was one that we thought would be here, and then “Hangin’ Downtown” and and and it’s GOOD! They are GREAT! They are loose and polished and rehearsed and happy and smiling and having fun. Paul looks fantastic and confident and all I could think was, this is what I have been waiting for you to do! This is all I have been waiting for! Yes! FINALLY! It’s not like they’ve suddenly turned into some session band or something, but they are loose and happy and nervous but they are up there and owning that fucking stage. Which is all I had ever hoped for. Paul looked happy and confident and comfortable and ready to go be Paul Westerberg for a while.
“Color Me Impressed” was where I finally lost it, Paul whistling through the intro with dogged deliberation. It’s not that this was my favorite song or the one I was waiting to hear, it was just the moment I think where my feet finally touched the ground again.
Tommy walks over to Paul and says something. Paul cracks up. Tommy opens his mouth and points at it. I think, wait, no way, but – yes! “Tommy Got His Tonsils Out,” impossibly, improbably, into this Hendrix jam at the end. “Kiss Me On The Bus” complete with handclaps from various audience members.
It was an odd crowd. There were the people totally losing it and then there were the people watching intently and I’m not sure they were there because they remembered it or if they were there because they thought they needed to see it. But there were enough euphoric looks and dancing bodies and out-loud singsongs to make it seem like home.
Paul makes reference to how they could play some more old stuff but they could always skip “Androgynous,” which is met with loud howls of protest from the crowd. This one fell apart more than a little, but both the crowd and then Tommy got Paul’s vocals back on track. “Achin’ To Be” was delicate, lovely–and then the indie rock national anthem (or at least that’s what I used to call it), “I Will Dare” – which was another fuckup, this time saved by the awesome effort of Dave Minehan. He knew the lyrics and he pulled off Peter Buck’s solo as sharp and crisp as the day he recorded it.
I cannot say enough good things about Dave Minehan and Josh Freese. Minehan “did a very solid Bob,” to quote Gorman Bechard afterwards. But it was more than that; Minehan had the parts down so well they were second nature, but he did that with heart and energy and boundless enthusiasm. There could not have been a better available guitar player for this role. And Freese was seamless, bringing equal energy and quality of performance to his role. No, it wasn’t Bob and it’s not Chris, but whatever they did to fit in with Paul and Tommy, it worked in spades.
“Love You Till Friday” segued neatly into “Maybelline,” “Merry-Go-Round” was a chance to catch your breath, “Wake Up,” was prefaced with a story that went something like, “It didn’t make it onto the record, and then the label told us you can’t do that, so we quit”. “Borstal Breakout” represented the first full fledged cover entry, into a picture-perfect, emotional “Little Mascara.” I think it was emotional for Paul and for the crowd or maybe it was emotional for one because of the other.
“Left of the Dial” was on my list of things I needed to hear, and another moment of awe and beauty and sadness and being filled up with every emotion you could possibly feel in one moment. And a moment where I feel all the years because this is a concept that you can’t even explain right now, much less in a few years. Paul looked pleased with himself when it was done.
“Instant happiness, puppies, rainbows” is what I wrote around the entry for “Alex Chilton.” Here I am on a Sunday night watching the Replacements and we’re all singing and clapping along, no hesitancy on Paul’s part, just singing the heck out of it, imbuing it with extra heart.
There was just so much heart. There was so much earnestness. They were silly and irreverent but yet they were all very very very sincerely glad to be on that stage and playing, it was so obvious and bright that it shone to outer space. There was no irony on that stage. It was very real, and very sincere, and very welcomed.
“Swinging Party” went out to Slim, “Can’t Hardly Wait” was everything you remembered it was, and then “Bastards of Young” caused the dust cloud to rise over the mosh pit again (I have so much dust coating my skin and I was on the other side of the field from the damn thing) and in this case, I was glad and happy and proud to see it. (I realize I would have probably felt differently if I was anywhere near it, and I do wish that in 2013 there was a better way to react to this music than slamming into everyone around you.)
That was the end of the set proper. I was going to protest that they JUST GOT HERE and then looked at my notes and my phone and realized it had been over an hour — which is still too short, but it wasn’t the 20 minutes that my brain was trying to tell me.
Paul walks out in a hockey jersey and by the boos I manage to deduce that this was a rival team (it was explained to me that it was like walking out in a Red Sox jersey at a Yankees game). This somehow led into “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy, and there is party of me that wonders if he planned to do the whole song or if he just planned to do a verse, but somehow he gets himself and the band through the whole thing, before mumbling something like, “Paul, what have you been doing for 20 years,” as though he himself wasn’t entirely too sure.
“I.O.U.” was the last number, kick-punched through the night air, before the band simply put down their instruments and walked off stage. There were some half-hearted waves but no coordinated bows (which I had been hoping for). With that unceremonious end, the house lights came on and we were left to slowly unpeel ourselves from the barrier and try to find the power of speech again.
For weeks now, months even, since the announcement, I have had to deal with endless grumpy “Well unless Bob has risen from the dead, this isn’t the Replacements” and yet tonight on that stage, it certainly felt exactly like I remembered it, the essential soul of the entire operation, the levity and the camaraderie and the heart and the vulnerability and the just plain having fun and fucking around part of it. It was all of that and it was more than that and it was just plain old coming home.
POST-SCRIPT: In my humble opinion there is no way this is put together for just the three RiotFest shows. There is lighting. There are about 20 different t-shirts. There are fancy laminates for the crew, utilizing the Facebook middle finger that’s on the “Hate Us On Facebook” shirt. Will there be new songs? Will there be a record? Gotta think this is where this is going because I don’t know that they’ll want this to be a total nostalgia fest. Maybe I am getting ahead of myself.
But go see this, if you can. You will want to see it.