Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Replacements at Riot Fest

Satisfaction is rock's greatest theme. One can date it back to the Stones, who famously couldn't get any, or maybe to Chuck Berry, whom Mick and Keith nicked that ageless chorus from. Anyone who remembers Muddy Waters singing "The Blues Had a Baby '(and they named it rock and roll)'" shouldn't forget that he predated it with "I Can't Be Satisfied," which may in turn have come from Langston Hughes' "The Weary Blues." The best musicians have been looking for satisfaction, with mixed results and questionable grammar*, for as long as rock n' roll has had a name. But perhaps no one ever did it as achingly as the Replacements.

Somehow, even as they took a bigger slot that they'd ever had during their original run (headlining over Iggy & the Stooges, holy hell,) playing a few highlights of their career and the entire college rock pantheon, they were nobody's cash-in nostalgia act. They were the goddamn Replacements, and to paraphrase their main songwriter, they rocked like murder.

No, they didn't throw up on themselves, switch instruments or play only covers, like their fabled awesome-or-awful club shows in the '80s. Nor did they defang themselves with a competent Greatest Hits Show. They just got out there and rocked, from the first-album-first-song roar of "Takin' a Ride" to an encore that included an Ethel Merman cover. Anyone who had scoffed at the band's choice to tour with just two original members (the same two who were still in the band when they broke up in 1991) wasn't there. Josh Freese, the only famous punk session drummer, and the Neighborhoods' Dave Minehan rounded out the lineup, playing every song as lovingly as fans and professionally as collaborators, with Minehan even learning the mandolin part of "I Will Dare" on guitar. Oh yeah, there was also Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson, sharing laughs and hugs, harmonizing on "Favorite Thing," jumping with their instruments like your dad pretending to be Pete Townshend after work in his garage.

Even when headlining a festival, they felt like rock's great coulda-beens, the same guys who showed up to SNL drunk and spent their music video budget on one long take of a sound system playing "Bastards of Young." Paul took a request for "Androgynous" and fumbled both the music and lyrics. He even flubbed the verses to "I Will Dare," which would be like watching Morrissey screw up "How Soon is Now?" (come to think of it, not an improbable circumstance.) That willful inconsistency was a luxury that Minehan and Freese couldn't afford, and it wasn't always charming, even from lovable underdogs like Westerberg and Stinson. But it was authentic punk, from every note of Paul's strained, heartfelt whistling on "Color Me Impressed" to a joyously loud "Bastards of Young." By the time they ran out of jokes and practically gushed out the classics--my god, "Little Mascara," "Left of the Dial" and "Alex Chilton"--they were elating us by the thousands.

From the stage, The Replacements sounded like their mid-career prime. After kicking in the alterna-rock door with the hardcore shrieks of Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, the 'Mats became increasingly streamlined with every album before bowing out on the sleepy All Shook Down. Their two best albums, Let it Be and Tim, came in the middle of that transformation, where the band found a perfect storm of their scrappy punk and arena-sized choruses. But live, it all could have come from those magic couple of years, without the studio mishaps of Hootenanny or the layered guitars and superfluous horn section of Pleased to Meet Me. Even when Paul and Tommy were tripping over themselves, they sounded better than ever. "I'm in Trouble" became an anthem and "Can't Hardly Wait" became garage punk. Covers of Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" and Sham 69's "Borstal Breakout" could've been Westerberg originals. "Swingin' Party" was dedicated to ex-guitarist Slim Dunlap, whose recent stroke inspired the Replacements' comeback benefit EP, Songs for Slim.

Closing with "I.O.U.," the band thrashed harder than they had all night, perhaps in honor of the artist Westerberg wrote the song about (who had just melted our faces with "Raw Power" two hours earlier.) "I owe you nothing," was the last lyric of the night, and they were right. They owed us nothing. But they gave it to us anyway, complete with some of the best songs that anyone ever found left of the dial.

Update 9/8/13: IcyDaylight has a wonderful post on the same show: Never take me anywhere but here

*"My own creed is 'It’s simple or impossible.' To date I’ve written more than 1,000 impossibles. Note that I didn’t say 'impossibilities — incorrect grammar is highly useful. I would never have written a song called “Dis-satisfied.” --Paul Westerberg


Icy Daylight said...

I love this write-up. I added a link to it from my Riot Fest post.

If he was from Venus, would he meet us on the moon?

Ben Apatoff said...

Thank you! I'm adding a link to yours as well.

Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round.