Artwork by Steven Fiche
Allow me to get personal. Again. There are a number of reasons why I’ll always remember Sunday, August 25th, 2013. The people I met, the miles I traveled, and the feelings that surged through my veins once the set tipped off — all facets of music that keep me glued and obsessed. Not since The Police returned to Miami, FL, on July 10th, 2007 — another memory on the can’t cut list (that is, until my family’s legacy with Alzheimer’s kicks in) — have I been so hungry for music. And never before have I seen what that actually looks like in action.
In this industry, everyone’s a fan of The Replacements. They’re like that archaic wooden ladle that sits in every kitchen across America, an agreeable commodity that’s been a part of everyday life for god knows how long. Or so I learned. Back in June, when they announced their reunion performances for Riot Fest, I was shocked to discover how much this meant to people. On social networks and at record stores around town, I’d see and hear their name shared, typically followed with: “I can’t hardly wait.”
Perhaps there’s just a lot of punny fans out there; I don’t know, but this was a reunion that was less of an event and more of a religious rite of passage. People needed this. In Toronto and Chicago, fans looked like Will “Not Your Fault” Hunting as they waited, watched, and mourned. Some of them were staff members here at Consequence of Sound, which is why for this feature, we decided to opt for the roundtable approach and share the true worth of this year’s best reunion.
Michael Roffman: This past Sunday, I finally put my Replacements poster from Riot Fest Chicago in a frame and hung it up on my living room wall. For almost three months, it had been sitting on my office floor, staring and teasing me like a piece of expired cake in the fridge. Even now, the summery performances and last June’s late-night announcement still feel like they didn’t happen. They’re like those tangled, lucid dreams that are always way too accommodating; I used to have a bunch of these as a kid. I’d dream up visits to Toys ‘R Us and there would be action figures of all the female characters they never made for franchises like Spider-man, Batman, Ghostbusters, etc. Then I’d wake up disappointed, and even though I knew it wasn’t real, I’d always look for them on my next trip to the store weeks later. They still haven’t made a Vicki Vale or Selina Kyle figure.
Anyways, that childish feeling shocked my nerves all summer. I was so paranoid about getting sick, or breaking my leg, or having to attend a funeral for family in the weeks leading up to their Toronto premiere in late August. I just couldn’t accept that this was reality. Then, well, it became reality. Did you all have similar feelings?
Justin Gerber: I was somehow more optimistic. I remember thinking The Strokes were going to break up just before their Lolla gig a couple years ago, and that was right up until they actually hit the stage. Despite a couple of album releases since that August evening, I still expect an official “extended hiatus” post from those dudes to hit my news feed any day now. However, it was different for The Replacements. All it took was a couple of behind-the-scenes videos and reading how hyped Paul Westerberg was after their Songs for Slim sessions (I plan on getting a “We still rock like murder” tattoo one of these days), and I just knew they were going to go through with it.
Westerberg may come off as a curmudgeon in print, but as the days grew closer and closer, that feeling of dreadful anticipation I had with The Strokes was a fear of disappointing reality. Would they still rock like murder in Toronto? Hell, would they still rock like murder when I’d see them in Chicago?
Megan Ritt: I was more afraid about the setlist. I read the one from the first show and was almost swooning with anticipation. Then it occurred to me that they might try to vary things more and not replay some of the big songs, and I got nervous.
In Chicago, it rained the entire day beforehand, and my two fest companions were not big Mats fans. By 4 p.m., I was afraid they might bail on me or try to talk me into leaving (they were total champs, though). What if it began to thunder– if the sky itself prevented the Mats?
Photo by Gilles LeBlanc
Dan Caffrey: I was never actually worried, and I think it was because Westerberg and Tommy Stinson were so nonchalant about the reunion. It felt appropriate and genuine. Had they made some big stink about it and frosted their tips and hired a hologram artist, then I would’ve been worried it might not happen. I guess the whole thing just seemed to be on their terms, which made me realize they were actually going to go through with it.
Regarding the setlist, they have so many good songs, so I knew I’d be happy no matter what, yet disappointed when they didn’t play one of my favorite deep cuts. That’s bound to happen with any band you’ve loved for a while. However, once they sloppily walked out (to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”, if I remember correctly), that all went away. I was just happy to be there and couldn’t believe I was about to see them. For me and most people our age, The ‘Mats were a sort of legend. They had almost become folk heroes that didn’t feel real. Lo and behold, they were.
On a side note, we had been waiting in the crowd for like two hours so we could get a good spot, and I really had to pee. But like everything else, that feeling vanished when the band took the stage.
Steven Arroyo: Coming at this as a late-to-the-game, young guy (as in, only once I began writing about bands that I knew I couldn’t fundamentally understand without at least a crash course in Mats did I finally begin at Hootenanny), I had no nerves leading up to their Riot Fest set because there was really nothing huge at stake for me. No memories that could be harmfully amended by a bad showing or setlist, no irrationally hopeful expectations. Only genuine excitement for a band that I had the utmost admiration and curiosity for, and who I couldn’t wait to see bury the fabled Taste of Chicago implosion 20 years later.
So, I had the fortune/misfortune of being able to objectively take in their Riot Fest performance completely nostalgia- and stress-free. Maybe it was because I was naive enough to buy Westerberg’s word over the years that this reunion was always going to happen at some point (hook-line-and-sinker, but he came through, did he not?) that I never had that deep-seated “is this real life?” moment, or maybe it was the number of dark beers I’d already put back by 8 p.m. to offset that brutally cold drizzle, or maybe it was because they didn’t play “Answering Machine” or “Unsatisfied”. But my brain knew exactly how big this was, even if my gut couldn’t quite feel it, and that moment did eventually come around to punch me square in the duodenum after reading coverage from on-timers such as yourselves over the next couple days.
Photo by Gilles LeBlanc
Roffman: Funny story. Justin, you texted me only 15 minutes prior to their set time in Toronto, saying something to the effect that Paul had cold feet, left for the airport, and that the organizers were trying to stop them. My reception was spotty, so I couldn’t respond to you and/or check Twitter, so of course I panicked. I don’t know why I believed you. I just remember thinking there couldn’t possibly be anything worse than standing there, minutes from seeing them, and having it all taken away. But again, it fit into my, for lack of a better word, self-deprecation that this was all too good to be true.
Look, I know I’m bias in calling this the best reunion of 2013. Ever since I came on-board at CoS, I’ve joked to Alex that the only story I want to write is: “The Replacements announce tour dates.” That happened. Now, I don’t really have much left on my wishlist, save for the impossible, never-gonna-happen Talking Heads reunion. Having said that, I’d like to think they delivered on all counts. I know several complained about the lack of other dates, varying setlists, and refusal to play “Unsatisfied”, but I’m of the lot that believes the short burst hits harder than the long blast. Look at the Pixies. How many of you were excited back in 2004 when they returned? How many want to see them next Spring? Exactly.
In a way, these three dates were a packaged gift to those that were willing to do whatever it takes to see them. And many did. In both Toronto and Chicago, I met fans that traveled across the globe; some even sold their cars to get there. The dedicated should be elated, even if they don’t tour again, which is a strong, strong possibility. What’s more, we now have an EP of solid covers and three new bootlegs to revisit.
Above all, I think the real gem was just being able to see Paul Westerberg out of his cave. Smiling, no less.
Ritt: When I listen to the records now, I keep going back to my default thought pattern: “Man, I wish I could hear them play this” — because I always thought I never would. And then I remember — I did hear them play this song. Live. In person. I just can’t get over it.
Gerber: When it came to their setlist for the Chicago Riot Fest date, my expectations were tempered, especially once the set started. I figured they’d play the same show for all of their Riot Fest dates with minor differences, so as many people as possible could get the “same” experience, albeit in different altitudes, time zones, and countries. This is highly speculative, considering the fact that The Replacements weren’t exactly well-known for desiring to put on the perfect concert (e.g., most of their live shows from 1979-91, ha-ha). Anyway, a major thrill was getting to see the reclusive Westerberg playing for maybe the biggest crowd he’d ever have, in front of fans who came to see him and weren’t just waiting around for Tom Petty or someone of that ilk.
The other high point was the constant interaction onstage between Westerberg and Stinson. You couldn’t quite hear what they were saying to one another, but they had mile-wide smiles plastered across their faces whenever they exchanged words. They seemed excited, shocked, and moved to have been received so well, and that spirit spread throughout their crowd. I’ve been to reunion shows where the band sounded great but had become devoid of any chemistry (Lolla 2012: At the Drive-In). The Replacements succeeded on all counts.
Does anyone remember when it started to rain again during “Left of the Dial”? Shiver me timbers.
Photo by Daniela Montelongo
Roffman: The smiles. Daniela Montelongo captured them for our coverage. THAT gives me shivers. I’ve seen Westerberg crack up onstage before, but those videos date back to the ’90s, maybe the late ’80s even. To me, he’s been this curmudgeon who records alone and then occasionally comes out to make wiseass comments about the past, the present, and maybe the future. The sense that I got was this reunion was a catharsis; after all, they were headlining a respectable festival and, as you pointed out, Justin, playing to their biggest crowds. Storywise, it’s a comeback tale — why wouldn’t they be smiling?
What also separates this reunion from others is that The Replacements were so hit or miss back in their prime. They’d either stumble onstage and do two hours of Stones covers, or play really sharp and hate each other while doing so. This was not only our chance to hear these songs, but their chance to play them. Of course, some waxed nostalgic for the messier days — read: Jim DeRogatis — but I think this treatment worked for the better. For one, seeing a fiftysomething stagger around drunkenly would be awful, and two, it felt like I was hearing the songs for the first time again. Despite Westerberg’s teasing, Dave Minehan proved worthy for the task, and Josh Freese obviously dug the gig. Things clicked.
You mention “Left of the Dial”, and I think that’s about the time I teared up. If only they played “Sixteen Blue” or “I’ll Be You” — pretty sure I would have croaked right there.
Arroyo: I guess the thing that I’d say set this one apart from the others, above all, is that it wasn’t calculated in the slightest. It actually happened when the time was right, which was in the wake of Slim Dunlap’s hospitalization and the Songs for Slim compilation they put together for his benefit. Not because of any kind of anniversary, not because they’d been pressured to their brink by fans, and definitely not because somebody finally named the right price – surely Riot Fest wasn’t the Replacements’ only suitor, and it definitely wasn’t their best-endowed suitor. That seems so very classic Mats to me, and come to think of it, I can hardly think of a better alternate Replacements reunion storyline, though I could name a thousand plausible worse ones.
Gerber: Steven, I think you meant you “Can’t Hardly Think” of a better storyline. Thank you! Goodnight!
Ritt: I cried for most of the set, to the surprise of exactly no one, but “Dial” and “Alex Chilton” really got to me. “Alex” was my first Mats song, the one that wormed its way into my brain and refused to leave until it finally enticed me to check out their records. To hear that guitar part live — to watch it being summoned forth from nothingness — after hearing it through headphones one thousand times? Surreal, spine-chilling ecstasy.
Caffrey: Speaking of crying, did anyone else think they saw Westerberg cry during the set? I can’t remember what song it was (maybe “Left of the Dial”), but I remember him not being able to finish a lyric because he wiped his eyes. Who knows—it may have just been sweat. I’ve really wanted to post about it, but was hesitant in case he wasn’t crying. I’m not trying to pin any kind of overblown, false emotion on the night, and yet, I really hope it was an actual tear. Kind of makes it more special. Did anyone else see this?
Photo by Daniela Montelongo
Gerber: Dan, you may be wrong, but you may be right. The moment in question was during “Can’t Hardly Wait”, just before the “I can’t wait” part. I’m sure Westerberg would say it was sweat, but I choose to believe it was the emotion of the moment. The crowd was great that night. It’s kind of like Life of Pi. What’s the truth you want to believe?
Roffman: As Steven pointed out, it was an emotional reunion, and I do think he was crying. Maybe not crying, that’s a little sensational, but tear for sure. Whether he was thinking about Dunlap or someone gone from the past like Alex Chilton or even Bob Stinson — I don’t know. Like you said Dan, I’d like to believe he was, as it would prove this whole soiree wasn’t just for nostalgia’s sake, but also closure.
What now, though? Do we want more shows? Of course, I’d love another tour. Another album. Another EP of covers even. I’m just not sure it’s necessary. Unless they can knock it out of the park like similar veterans Dinosaur Jr. did in their latter career, I’d really be averse to having a discography tainted. Then again, that Songs for Slim EP sounded exceptional, and what’s more, it sounded like The Replacements. There was that raw, blue-collar energy that just wasn’t there on Don’t Tell a Soul or All Shook Down.
If anything, I’d really be jazzed if this lit up Westerberg to tour solo again.
Caffrey: I’d be happy with more Westerberg solo records or a ‘Mats album. I could be wrong, but I think Tommy’s even played bass on one or two of Westerberg’s solo songs over the years. And didn’t they work on Open Season together? I might be completely wrong. Either way, this reunion has seemed to put them both in a mindset of getting back to their roots. And like we’ve all said, they just had fun. Isn’t that what this is all about anyway?
Ritt: For me, that show was such a perfect moment: good vibes, an ideal setlist, the emotional payoff only a long-awaited show can yield. I’ll listen to anything else they do — but I don’t need any more to be happy. If this was it, I could grow old at the bar quite contentedly with the vinyl and the memories.
Gerber: I’m totally content if the Riot Fest shows went down in history as the last Replacements shows. Granted, I say that having been fortunate enough to attend one of the three shows, but the circumstance is what it is. As for the Mats’ future, it’s how I feel about any established artists/bands: play until you don’t want to play anymore. Like Mike said, if they still have it in them to deliver something akin to Dinosaur Jr.’s Beyond or Farm, I’m all for it. But don’t embarrass yourselves. At the very least, I hope this experience has proven to Westerberg that there is still an audience out there waiting for him to sing his songs. Replacements or no Replacements.
Hell, we’ll always have Humboldt Park.
Arroyo: Definitely not expecting any new material and not sure I’d want any. Would love another, fuller one-off tour.
Caffrey: If they do a full tour, perhaps they’ll finally usurp the 2000 Keanu Reeves film as the top Google search for “The Replacements.”
Roffman: Yeah, that should make up for their Hall of Fame loss.