Everything you wanted, they were.
So says our friend and Toronto musician Christian D. Christian saw the recently-reunited Replacements play at the Toronto Riot Fest date, and with all the debate flying around on whether the Replacements should reunite (spoiler alert: Too late! They already did), Christian wanted to get his take on things down into words, and he kindly let us post his thoughts.
I’m betting that, like me, a lot of the audience at Toronto’s Riot Fest, never got to see the Mats the first time around. For me, it wasn’t so much about “was it worth the wait”, but rather a chance to see what might have/should have been. Based on those songs, the critical accolades, and the snotty punk attitude, it always seemed like the Replacements should have been goddamned huge. “Best band of the ‘80s”, remember that? Maybe they were ahead of their time or too fucked up to play the game – whatever it was, it never really happened for them.
BUT – the legacy looms large. I grew up on those albums, and the bootlegs, and all the stories of the brilliant band who’d show up too drunk to even bother. I didn’t know what Riot Fest was, and didn’t give a damn who was on the bill – to me this thing was all about the Replacements.
A big question for some was whether it should even be called the Replacements – maybe it should have been the Paul and Tommy show or something. That didn’t bother me. The Replacements name was fine by me, Paul singing those songs he wrote for all of us, Tommy hammering the bass and screaming his backing vocals – that’s close enough for rock and roll, ya know? Like, they’re the Replacements: don’t ask why.
I had to be there – this show was bound to be legendary, whether it would be a transcendent blast of rock and roll or a sloppy drunken money grab of half assed covers and a half hour of the roadies jamming Hootenanny.
Here are two things you should know before I get rolling: 1) I worship Iggy Pop and the Stooges, 2) I never buy merchandise at shows.
This is important because after a typically brilliant, always-manic Stooges set, I pretty much forgot I had just seen Iggy fucking Pop the second the Mats took the stage. Unfor-fucking-givable. And I, cheap bastard that I am, bought a T-shirt and wanted more shit, but they were selling out quick. The magic of seeing the Mats turned me into a 15-year-old fanboy.
So what did we get really? A wise-cracking Paul intros the set and slams into “Takin’ A Ride”, the first song from the first record. Perfect. Then “I’m in Trouble”, “Favourite Thing.” The Westerberg ravaged voice is as expressive as you remember it; his deadpan self-deprecating humour is still intact. Tommy still wears the bass low, rips some of the coolest bass lines ever to come out of punk rock, and plays with the energy of the hyper 17-year-old he was all those years ago.
“Hanging Downtown”, thousands are screaming along: “Bus stop, pimps and whores, liquor stores, Sixth Street, Seventh Street, bus stop, bus stop, bus stop, bus stop, bus stop…” We all know it until an ad-libbed “Jim Osterberg, he’s my new best friend”, then loud fucking cheers.
Some more classic Paul half-assed, jokey stage banter – including “Does everybody feel… uptight and worthless? ” – resets the show for a great romp through “Color Me Impressed”. The band (including Josh Freese and David Minehan) are having a blast, and we’re all having our minds blown in the audience. It’s like a triumphant headline gig that really should have happened when we were all a lot younger. Maybe we’re all appreciating it more now? I don’t know. It feels great, though. The band is semi-sloppy, pulling out some half-assed covers. Paul’s whispering in Tommy’s ear, it’s all playful rock-and-roll fun, and the crowd is lapping it up, transported. Like, damn, they could have/should have done this years ago. I’m already hoping they do it again, and we’re not even halfway done yet.
Then what? Do you want a song list? How about you go download the bootlegs instead? I sure as hell did. How about some highlights: “Tommy Gets his Tonsils Out” into Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun”. A tremendous sing-along to “Kiss me on the Bus”. Paul’s misremembering/not remembering lyrics, Tommy and Dave are filling them in. Part of the magic of the Mats was that they never seemed to take themselves too seriously, and they still don’t. There’s a sloppy “Maybelline” in the best sense of sloppy. A slamming cover of “Borstal Breakout”. Was there stuff I wanted to hear and didn’t? Yeah, of course, but over all it was a mad romp through one of the best catalogs in rock and roll. We even got “Wake Up”, a sharp little rocker from the All Shook Down sessions.
“Little Mascara” into “Left of the Dial”, hell yeah! Perfect.
Paulie (as he keeps referring to himself) says, “I think we’re running out of time, we got maybe one more or something” at the end of “Can’t Hardly Wait”. And then THAT opening: the guitar break and scream that kicks off “Bastards of Young”, one of the best intros in all of rock and roll.
Do you know the feeling of a crowd of thousands shouting along to one of the best songs by a band no one ever thought would play again? It’s pretty goddamned amazing – and if you can get your ass to one of the two promised Riot Fest shows you can find out for yourself.
For the encore, Paul returns in a Montreal Canadians jersey – a classic Replacements playful fuck-you. “We’re gonna play a really stupid song that we don’t know”. It’s “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from the benefit e.p. Songs for Slim. Which is how and why we all got here, the sad backstory to a triumphant return.
Westerberg once wrote, “Rock and roll could make you quiver a long long time ago”. Well, tonight, it sure did again.
If you can, I’m telling ya: get to the remaining shows, go grab the bootlegs that are roaming around the net. Who knows how long this can last?