Leave it to Paul Westerberg to figure out the perfect way to break the ice about the Replacements’ 22-year-long leave from the stage.
“For 25 years we’ve been having a wardrobe debate. It was unresolved,” he laughed, bounding out on stage in Toronto and looking down at his plaid sport coat then over at Tommy Stinson, dressed in a grey suit. “We’re going to play some old sh*t.”
And with that, they were off. After so much anticipation, so many “dream set lists,” and so many lofty expectations, the ‘Mats (or at least founding members Westerberg and Stinson, along with sidemen Josh Freese and David Minehan) blasted through a set that left little time for contemplation. Instead, the band pummeled through one recognizable tune after another as the audience moshed, pogoed, and screamed the words to each song at the top of their lungs.
It’s no wonder Sunday night’s Riot Fest in Toronto, the first of their three Riot Fest dates, sold out by the time the headliners took the stage.
As promised, the band started by dipping into some of the earliest work, including more than a few off their debut album, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, which Westerberg joked came out in “19… blah blah blah.” (The debut came out 32 years ago to the day.) But they didn’t rest in those old grimy grooves for long, leaping forward and backwards throughout their entire discography.
The songs came packaged with plenty of backstories, too — at least when Westerberg delivered his between-song banter with a straight face. Before “I Will Dare,” he said it was “dedicated to anyone who was dragged here tonight against their will. Maybe someone told you ‘Get out of the house, it’ll do you some good.’ This song’s for you, and for me.”
At other points they were more lighthearted, with Westerberg laughing that he had been practicing what to say in the hotel. “Put your hands in… your pockets?” he cracked, while Stinson transitioned between “Favorite Thing” and “Hangin’ Downtown” by saying, “If you liked that, we’ve got another song exactly f*cking like it.”
But back to the music; at most points in the set, all I could manage to tweet was the song title and an exclamation point, and those exclamation points stood for so many things. At the risk of leaning too heavily on hyperbole, their performance sounded exactly like I hoped it would, and I got the overwhelming feeling everyone in the crowd around me was experiencing an intense, heightened sense of satisfaction. Like a decades-old bottle of champagne finally uncorked, the whole set had a celebratory, infectious, and downright giddy spirit to it that was most clearly illustrated in the giant smile spread across drummer Josh Freese’s face. There’s an undeniable joy in getting exactly what you’ve been craving, and on that note the Replacements delivered fourfold.
Freese and Minehan were both sturdy, animated additions to the band’s live show. Even when Westerberg fumbled a lyric — which happened at least twice, yet fazed no one — the band carried on, intent to keep the momentum pushing forward and the energy high.
Other highlights? Westerberg broke from the set list more than once to ask the crowd for requests, delivering one of the more jazzy, stripped-down songs of the set, “Androgynous.” At the night’s most touching moment, he paused to pay a quiet tribute to Slim Dunlap, whose medical troubles inspired Westerberg and Stinson to get back in the studio in the first place, by playing a delicate rendition of “Swinging Party.” And as the two-song encore came to a close, the band brought things full circle by playing “I.O.U.” — a song inspired by Iggy Pop, who tore apart the crowd with his band the Stooges just prior to the ‘Mats’ set.
There are so many other little highlights that popped up throughout the performance, many of which I captured in video snippets and gleeful yippees on my Twitter feed and Instagram account. And many more highlights will likely surface as I step back and reflect on what went down. For now, I’ll leave you with some more fantastic photos of this historic night, along with the full set list.
The Replacements at Riot Fest in Toronto set list:
Takin’ A Ride
I’m in Trouble
Color Me Impressed
Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
Kiss Me on the Bus
Achin’ to Be
I Will Dare
Love You Till Friday
Merry Go Round
Left of the Dial
Can’t Hardly Wait
Bastards of Young
Everything’s Coming Up Roses
Toronto Riot Fest audio provided by Mechanical Forest Sound.
Previous related features
The Current’s guide to the Replacements
The Replacements Family Tree
Replacements-related landmarks, then and now
Cover Me Impressed: The Story Behind the ‘Tim’ Album Art
Friday Five: Ladies and gentlemen, the Replacements