If the Replacements had played every concert as well as they did on Sunday night at Riot Fest in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, they would have been as big as they should have been.
That is, in no way, meant to diminish the contributions of Bob and Chris. After all, they had plenty of great shows during their time in the Mats, and Bob wasn’t the only troublemaker in the band. But their reputation as a live act was built more on performing drunken, half-finished covers, and eventually had a negative impact on their career. But their 80-minute, 25-song set was light-years removed from those days.
I had only seen the Replacements twice before. Well, 1.5 times. The first was in March 1991 with the second taking place a few months later, opening up for Elvis Costello. I thought both nights were incredible, but I was a neophyte to the band then, and my memories of those nights, witnessed from far away, are clouded by the conventional wisdom that the “All Shook Down” tour was the sound of a band on its last legs, playing out the tour with Slim and Steve, Guys Who Weren’t Bob and Chris.
But I still can recall so much of the two solo Paul shows I’ve been to, in support of “14 Songs” and “Eventually,” where I was right up against the stage as Paul and his bands tore through the new songs and the old favorites with a perfect mixture of energy and skill. So given that the Guys Who Weren’t Bob and Chris in 1993 – Dave and Josh – were back for this tour, I didn’t care if they called themselves the Replacements or the Paul and Tommy Variety Hour (which, frankly, would have been awesome). I knew the material was in the right hands.
It helped that I had heard the bootleg of the Toronto show three weeks earlier. My friends who were there raved about it with the same sense of disbelief that accompanied the news of the reunion back in June. It was better than it had any right to be. Even with Paul being historically unpredictable, they weren’t going to do a 180 and tank their second show. Still the possibility of it happening was somewhere in the back of my mind, until they took the stage to the strains of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” and slammed into high gear from the start, with “Takin’ A Ride.”
“Stay right there / Go no further,” Paul shouted, as if there was anywhere else in the universe I wanted to be that night. From there they kicked the door down of a handful of their early punk songs, “I’m In Trouble,” “Favorite Thing,” “Hangin’ Downtown,” “Color Me Impressed,” and “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out.” Somewhere in there was one of the few diversions from the Toronto night, “I Don’t Know” that took a jaw-dropping detour through “Buck Hill.”
The Mats did their best to make sure that the pace didn’t slow down in the middle third. “Achin’ To Be” and “Androgynous” (with a verse of “Hey Good Lookin'” thrown in at the end) was about as close as it got. But “I Will Dare” picked things up again, with “Love You Till Friday/ Maybellene,” “Wake Up,” and Sham 69’s ‘Borstal Breakout” following.
Then, “Little Mascara” announced that we were heading into the homestretch. One by one, the classics rang out. “Left of the Dial,” “Alex Chilton” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” and “Bastards of Young.” Of their best-loved songs, only “I’ll Be You” and all of their acoustic songs were left off the setlist. A two-song encore of “Hold My Life” (another difference from Toronto) and “IOU” and the night was over, sending everybody into ecstacy.
Well, except for obese contrarian Jim DeRogatis, who went into the concert saying that it could never capture the spirit of a drunken night at Maxwell’s in 1983, partially citing Tommy’s current employment in Guns N’ Roses as sneering proof (even though the regular work has kept him incredibly sharp). Then, like a child forced to eat his vegetables, had a self-fulfilling prophecy of a miserable time. And yes, I’m pretty sure DeRogatis throws tantrums when vegetables are put down in front of him, too.
That’s his fucking loss, because, had he gone in with an open mind, he would have realized that he was the only one trading in nostalgia. Even from my spot way in the back of the crowd, you could feel the energy coming from the stage. The true soul of those incredible songs were on full display, and part of me still doesn’t believe that they pulled it off. They were well-rehearsed (Josh was a beast behind the drums), but nothing was polished or rote by any stretch of the imagination. And yes, there were plenty of times when Paul changed or forgot the lyrics, and so many of those perfect Paul moments of spontaneous wiseassery.
Like when he yanked the stage clock and swung it above his head. Or when he asked Dave to “lose that Cure thing” on his guitar (“Swingin’ Party”), then threatened to replace him with Bob Mould a few songs later (“Waitress in the Sky”). Or when he apologized for a ragged harmony on “Achin’ to Be” with “We ain’t the Beach Boys.” Or during “Androgynous,” when he asked who saw Joan Jett Friday night, only to lose his place in the song. “I forgot the fucking words!” he said, laughing.
If DeRogatis reads this, he can easily counter that I went into it every bit as close-minded as he did, but from the other side. And that’s fair enough. However, we live in an age where you don’t have to take his – or my – word for it. Check out the video I took of “I’m in Trouble” I embedded above, or any of the other fan videos from Sunday night and judge for yourself. I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me and see that Derogatis is clearly posing as the Ultimate Hipster, sneering at anybody who didn’t see them at Maxwell’s in 1983, just like all the Baby Boomers did to him when he was young.
And part of me understands that. After all, I had my own way of getting back at all the twentysomethings in attendance, albeit in a funnier way. I had considered making a t-shirt that said, “I loved the Replacements when you loved Barney,” but didn’t follow through with it.