It’s been three weeks since the Replacements played their first reunion show in Toronto, and since that time I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe just how special that night was. I knew it was hyperbolic, but I found myself saying things like, “I don’t know if I’ll ever experience something like that again.” And after seeing them again tonight in Chicago, I’m still not sure that I ever will. The explosive energy of that evening remains unchallenged.
But what the ‘Mats proved tonight, at their second of three Riot Fest gigs is that they continue to capture and channel the wry, irreverent, and searing energy that made them such a legendary band to begin with. Though the crowd wasn’t quite as intimate or insane as the one in Toronto (which was only about a quarter of the size of Chicago’s fest), the band demonstrated that their debut reunion gig wasn’t some kind of crazy fluke. In fact, their Chicago set was even looser and rowdier, at times almost completely unraveling, and it was downright exhilarating watching them ride the rails and drive the performance forward with an unbridled momentum.
“We haven’t played for three weeks,” frontman Paul Westerberg scoffed at the start of the set, before launching into the same trio of Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash songs that kicked off their Toronto show. But I didn’t believe him, even for a minute, as he led the band through a series of complex transitions that found them smashing together oldie “I Don’t Know” with strains of “Color Me Impressed” and “Buck Hill” with incredible precision.
The band stuck to much the same set list as they did in Toronto, with a few exceptions—namely, the addition of “I Don’t Know” toward the beginning of the set and “Hold My Life” in the encore—and structured the flow of the set very similarly, starting with earlier barnburners and working into a collection of nonstop crowd-pleasers like “Kiss Me on the Bus,” “Waitress in the Sky,” and “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
Overall, Westerberg’s stage banter was less coherent this time around. “I don’t even know what f***ing record this is… The key of E major, lets go!” he laughed before tearing into “My Favorite Thing,” while at other times he would mumble off mic and toss out inside jokes with his new-old bandmates. Was it all a ruse? Was he trying to compensate for the fact that they were playing so well? Or was he honestly flustered? We’ll never know.
“I’ll turn this clock toward you and you can tell us when to stop,” Westerberg said a few songs in, before picking up the stage clock and swinging it over his head as the crowd egged him on. “I’m an old hat at this,” he joked, half slurring. “I’m a music business professional.”
Ever the comedian, Westerberg also was sure to put his bandmates through the ringer. New guitarist David Minehan, who previously played with Westerberg on a solo tour, got the brunt of Westerberg’s snark, oftentimes mid-song. During the slower and sparser “Swinging Party,” Westerberg walked over to Minehan and shook his head. “Can you lose that Cure thing?” At another point, when Minehan biffed one of the chords for “Waitress in the Sky,” he scowled and deadpanned, “We could have Bob Mould up here in an instant, buddy.”
Despite all the little missteps and misfires, the 2013 incarnation of the band—which features founders Westerberg and Tommy Stinson on lead and bass, respectively, plus road warriors Josh Freese on drums and Minehan on guitar—proved they have the chops to not only fire off these beloved songs, but also take drive them all the way to the edge of disaster and pull them back again. It takes a lot of skill to be that reckless, and that’s what always has and always will make the Replacements a one-of-a-kind live band.
The Replacements live at Riot Fest, Chicago 9/15/2013
(Audio recorded by Alien Rendel, who notes “This was a big outdoor festival crowd and the recording reflects that. Some talking, some drunk sing-alongs.”)
Takin a Ride
I’m in Trouble
My Favorite Thing
I Don’t Know
Color me impressed
Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
Achin’ to Be
Androgynous (with strains of Hank Williams’ Hey Good Lookin’)
I Will Dare
Love You Till Friday/Maybelline
Merry Go Round
Borstal Breakout (Sham 69 cover)
Left of the Dial
Kiss Me on the Bus
Can’t Hardly Wait
Bastards of Young
Hold My Life
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