For a band who hasn’t necessarily been vocal about their reunion or their relationship with their hometown (ok, they haven’t given a single interview or said a peep about either), it was hardly a surprise that the Replacements were light on sentimental banter and heavy on hits throughout their hour-and-40-minute set at Midway Stadium.
They didn’t acknowledge the fact that St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman declared a citywide “Replacements Day” just 10 minutes prior to their performance or that it was their first show in their home state in 23 years, and they only begrudgingly donned the Saints jerseys that were gifted to them for headlining the last event in the Midway Stadium before it’s torn down. (“Do you think Bob Dylan put this f*cker on?,” Paul Westerberg cracked. “Did Michael Stipe put this f*cker on?”) But Westerberg and his co-founding bandmate Tommy Stinson didn’t need to come out and say just how special it was—instead, they opted to let their music do most of the talking.
In a performance that spanned nearly every song they’ve pulled out for their reunion gigs so far and a few that haven’t (including “Take Me Down the Hospital,” Jimmy Reed’s “I’m Going to New York” and a spine-tingling solo rendition of “Skyway”), the Replacements seemed hell bent on erasing any ill will that might have arisen from such a delayed hometown show and finally gave the audience exactly what they wanted. With help from airtight sidemen Josh Freese on drums and David Minehan on guitar, the band was obviously well-rehearsed and ready to roll, with just enough sloppy little flourishes sprinkled in to add some drama to their perfectly imperfect rock songs.
“Wait’ll you get a load of this crap,” Tommy Stinson joked irreverently before driving the band into a medley of “Love You Till Friday” and Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline,” while at another point he joked that, “It’s colder than we thought it would be so things might sound a little funny.”
Although the temperature plummeted to the low 50s by the concert’s end, the crowd huddled together and it was easy enough to stay warm, especially during bounce-alongs to hits like “Color Me Impressed.” And Westerberg did his best to create a little heat during “Kiss Me on the Bus,” when he made his way over to Stinson’s side of the stage, grabbed him by the sides of his face, and kissed him square on the lips.
In an uncharacteristically serious moment, Westerberg grew somber and said, “Our old buddy Slim [Dunlap]” is back in the hospital. So, that’s bad. I wish he was here.” He followed up the short tribute with a jumpy frolic through the Jackson 5 song “I Want You Back.” Before the audience could collect themselves, he brought out “an actual musician,” legendary blues player Tony Glover of Koerner, Ray & Glover fame to play harmonica on “Going to New York.”
And then there was the double-encore, a pure ice-cream-sundae-with-cherry-on-top finale for all those fans who’ve waited years to see them perform again. Paul began the encore solo with “Skyway” on a 12-string guitar, then brought out the band for “”Left of the Dial,” “Alex Chilton,” and a second encore of the ultimate underdog anthem “Unsatisfied.”
“Thanks for that,” Westerberg said shortly before “Unsatisfied,” then ended the song by hugging Stinson and walking off stage arm-in-arm. Really, what more needed to be said?
The opening bands were a bit more vocal about the occasion. Lucero warmed up the crowd with a short set of low-key roots rock, and lead singer Ben Nichols was clearly psyched to be opening for such an historic show. “We’re just happy to be invited to this party,” he said, later returning to the stage to join the Hold Steady on some festive backing vocals. The Hold Steady, meanwhile, took advantage of the gig by playing a nonstop set of hits, from “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” to “Constructive Summer” and “Stuck Between Stations.”
“I’m going to spare you the hysterics,” frontman Craig Finn said, “but for a guy who grew up here this is literally a dream come true.”
Takin’ a Ride
I’m in Trouble
Don’t Ask Why
I’ll Be You
Waitress in the Sky
Tommy Got His Tonsils Out
Take Me Down to the Hospital
I Want You Back (Jackson 5)
Going to New York (Jimmy Reed) with Tony Glover
Color Me Impressed
Nowhere Is My Home
If Only You Were Lonely
Achin’ to Be
Kiss Me on the Bus
I Will Dare
Love You Till Friday / Maybelline (Chuck Berry)
Merry Go Round
Borstal Breakout (Sham 69)
Love You in the Fall
Can’t Hardly Wait
I Don’t Know / Buck Hill
Bastards of Young
Skyway (Paul solo)
Left of the Dial
Unsatisfied (fan video)