Thursday, September 18, 2014

It's Too Late to Turn Back, Here We Go.....

For the last half of my life, I've had two things in particular on my lengthy bucket list and one seemed unlikely to ever get crossed off. First, I always wanted to take a trip to the Twin Cities and see all of the sights that my favorite band ever, the Replacements, helped make semi-famous. The venues they played, the places/things they sang about, the places they frequented, the Stinson house on the cover of Let It Be, etc.

The second thing on the bucket list was actually seeing the Replacements play live. I got into the band as they were going on hiatus, so I never had a chance to see them live. I've seen Paul Westerberg solo numerous times, but it wasn't quite the same. I understood that if a reunion ever happened it would likely be just Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, and two other non-Replacements (or replacement Replacements?), but to me that was close enough to be the Replacements. And Josh Freese and Dave Minehan were sort of honorary Replacements at this point having played with Paul and Tommy previously, so it was really the perfect reunion lineup.

When the reunion started last year I said if they ever played a non-festival headlining gig in their hometown, I would do whatever I had to do to be there. So when tickets went on sale for the reunited Replacements show at Midway Stadium in St. Paul, I had an opportunity to accomplish both of these things at the same time. I got tickets through the band pre-sale and immediately started planning my trip.

It would also be the first show the Replacements had played in their hometown in 23+ years. Crossing both of these items off the bucket list on the same weekend was actually kind of surreal. If you had told me I'd be standing in the outfield of a minor league baseball stadium watching the Replacements play in front of 14,000 people in 2014 (for a show that sold out in 10 minutes), I'd have asked you what drugs you were on and if you had any extra for me. As the saying goes you marry the first time for love, the second time for money, and the third time for companionship. In the case of the Replacements, they definitely are getting paid big bucks the second time around and they also seem to having a great time doing it, so it's probably a mixture of love, money, and companionship.

It's been days since I experienced all of this and I still haven't come down from the adrenaline high yet. First, here are some separate links to the pictures I took of the Replacements landmarks in Minneapolis:


The poster for the Replacements show

This poster was modeled on the old Minnesota Twins poster:

My ticket!

Yep, they were filming this show professionally

Take me down to the hospital reference?! (sign at Midway Stadium)
stage view from around where I was standing the whole night

Lucero and the Hold Steady were both very good as expected. And now that I've been to the Twin Cities, I understand many more of Craig Finn's local references in the Hold Steady catalog.

Lucero opened things around 7pm

The Hold Steady came on a little before 8pm

Unfortunately, once it got dark it was difficult to get good pictures from where I was standing due to the glare from the stage lights.

capacity crowd minutes before the Replacements took the stage at 9pm

with Tony Glover on harmonica

Encore wearing St. Paul Saints jerseys

For starters the Replacements sounded great, probably way better than any band with that long of a layoff has a right to sound, even 11 shows into their reunion. I have dozens of bootlegs of shows where they were sloppy and drunk and kinda terrible. And I have dozens where they sound great. This was definitely one of the great-sounding performances, as all of their reunion shows have been so far. Guitarist Dave Minehan and drummer Josh Freese are very good musicians who are perfect fits with Paul and Tommy, so the result is a really tight versatile powerhouse live band who sound terrific. And the show was being recorded with professional camera crews, so we will probably see a DVD release of this in the coming year.

I can't really find any fault with a 30+ song setlist containing almost all of the fan favorites, including a handful of songs they've rarely been playing if at all on this reunion tour. In retrospect I would have liked to have seen "Little Mascara" or "I.O.U." as well, but it's akin to quibbling over an A+ set vs. an A++ set.

Here is a re-gram of the setlist:

1. Favorite Thing
2. Takin' a Ride
3. I'm in Trouble
4. Don't Ask Why
5. I'll Be You
6. Valentine 
7. Waitress in Sky
8. Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out /into Third Stone From the Sun (Jimi Hendrix)
9. Take Me Down to the Hospital
10. I Want You Back (Jackson Five)
11. Going to New York (Jimmy Reed) with Tony Glover on harmonica 
12. Color Me Impressed
13. Nowhere Is My Home
14. If Only You Were Lonely
15. Achin' to Be
16. Kiss Me on the Bus
17. Androgynous
18. I Will Dare
19. Love You Till Friday /into Maybellene (Chuck Berry)
20. Merry Go Round
21. I Won't
22. White and Lazy /into Borstal Breakout (Sham 69)
23. Swingin' Party
24. Love You in the Fall (from Paul Westerberg solo album)
25. Can't Hardly Wait
26. Bastards of Young
27. I Don't Know (with Buck Hill interlude in the middle)

28. Skyway (Paul solo on a 12-string)
29. Left of the Dial
30. Alex Chilton 


31. Unsatisfied

Some notes on the show:

- Prior to the Replacements taking the stage St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman spoke for a few minutes about the greatness of the band and then declared September 13th "Replacements Day" in St. Paul.

- The band entered to the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird."

- Before "Take Me Down to the Hospital", Paul dedicated it to Slim Dunlap, who he noted had to go back into the hospital. They were hoping he could have attended the show.

- They stopped the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back" after the first verse and chorus and it sounded pretty good. And then Paul brought out local blues harmonica legend Tony Glover for a cover of Jimmy Reed's blues classic "Going to New York." The rest of the band seemed genuinely surprised about this, as there was nothing about the Jimmy Reed cover on the setlist. And that was the extent of the special guests, which was fine. I didn't want to see a bigger name hijack the show. Although I thought there might be an outside shot Craig Finn would reprise the role of the cop from "Kids Don't Follow" that he played in the Replacements tribute shows in NY in 2011.

- Before "Nowhere Is My Home", Paul said "Here's another song we never released called 'Nowhere Is My Home'...and it's suddenly true." Perhaps a nod to his recent divorce?

- Paul planted a big smooch on Tommy during the last part of "Kiss Me on the Bus" (see this video around the 2:35 mark).

- Paul played "Skyway" flawlessly which is notable if you remember seeing the 2002 solo tour, where I believe he finally nailed the words and notes perfectly at the Philly show I attended, about 10-12 dates into the tour. He had to do it blindfolded so he wouldn't mess it up. I don't recall if he ever played it perfectly again on that tour.

- After "Skyway" the band returned wearing honorary St. Paul Saints baseball jerseys with their last names on the back. And Paul tried to ditch the jersey at first and Tommy finally convinced him to put it on. Tommy: "Put that fucker on. Put it on." Then Paul said, "How many bands have done this? You think Bob Dylan put this fucker on? You think Michael 'fuckin' Stipe put this on?" Tommy: "It's cold. We need it." And with temperatures dipping into the 40's, Paul then said something like "I wanted to be #9. Well, they are kinda cozy." I believe Tommy had #15 and Paul had #25, I couldn't make out the other band members. And I'm sure they can auction those off for charity soon.

And there is so much to read into the setlist for an obsessive fan. Playfully closing with "I Don't Know" (Should we give it up?....I don't know) and then ending with "Unsatisfied." Are they still unsatisfied? Does this mean they are going to continue scratching an itch? Westerberg rarely played "Unsatisfied" on his last few solo tours, probably partially as he noted at one show when a fan requested it, "But I'm so fully satisfied." They seem to be adding more songs to the rotation to keep it more interesting for them, as if they were preparing for this to continue. But I suppose your guess is as bad as mine on the 'will it continue?' topic.

And finally this picture below found online of Paul and Tommy hugging credited to "Darin K" pretty much conveys what so many Replacements fans felt seeing this reunion, and this show in particular.

Seriously, it is one of my favorite pictures ever and I will probably print it and get it framed. Diehard fans probably all felt like we were a 3rd party in a group hug, reaching out and hugging our favorite lovable "best band that never made it big" heroes, and thanking our prodigal sons for returning from a 20+ year hiatus. Your first instinct as a fan is to want a band to play "one more song", and I was hoping for one more. But as soon as I saw the hug after "Unsatisfied" I knew that was the perfect way to end the show.

They are rock 'n' roll blood brothers at this point, with a bond that will go deeper than most families have. Westerberg noted in a recent Rolling Stone profile, "We'll call each other up when things go south, because we know we can get a laugh out of each other. How many people do you know that you can call up and get a guaranteed gut-wrenching laugh? Sometimes it's worth all the money and kissing and hugging in the world."

Earlier in the set between songs Westerberg said, "Sorry we took so long." And Stinson laughing a little quipped, "No you ain't." That sequence right there is why Replacements fans love the Replacements, showing all facets of their humanity. Just when one of them gets a little too serious and sentimental, the other one, on cue, breaks the mood (and the other's balls). Wise wise-asses. Courageous cowards. Ambitious slackers. It was said about Hold Steady that they appeal to "guys who like to drink beer and read." And that is the same group the Replacements always appealed to: smart guys (and gals) who like to drink beer and have a good time and love great songwriting.

This big hug was the final act before they left the stage. You can read so many emotions into this: relief, elation, fulfillment, victory, etc,  If the reunion tour ends in a few weeks (October 12th in Austin, TX is the last date scheduled) and they never play together again, this picture kind of says, "We finally did it the right way. Now we can leave the 'Replacements legacy' in its proper place." So yes, maybe the "sorry we took so long" sentiment was directed as much at each other, as to the fans. As in, "what have we been doing NOT playing together the last 23 years and missing all this fun?" And if they continue, making new music together and touring, as some signs point, well then this embrace looks like more of a feeling of conquest or a "It's great to be back. It feels like we never left" sentiment. I'm hoping it's the latter, although if it isn't I'll have a life-affirming unforgettable concert memory of the first/last time I saw them. 

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