The Replacements break their 22-year live drought

At Riot Fest in Toronto, the local legends had a swingin' reunion party

In the 22-year hiatus since the last Replacements live show, reunion talk was never far away. "Let's face it, the real fans are pretty old now. I mean, the ones who saw it will never see it again, because even if we got together, we could never be it..." Westerberg told Bill Holdship in a 2002 interview. Throughout his career, Westerberg has endured hyperbolic comparisons to everyone from Springsteen to Iggy Pop to Kurt Cobain but never, until recently, been properly compensated for his heart-on-sleeve songwriting and performance gifts. "If there ever is a let's-go-to-the-bank-and-cash-in reunion, I'm ready. And make no mistake: That will be the reason... If the Replacements reunite, we would want to make a bundle of money to rectify being screwed for so many years."

But what he wasn't taking into account was Dunlap. Not long after his stroke, the dilapidated storefront of one of Minnesota's most revered/reviled bands had loads of fresh scaffolding around it. To raise funds to help defray Dunlap's mounting medical costs, the living members of the band worked together, though founding drummer Chris Mars created artwork and submitted a song, but didn't record with Westerberg and Stinson. The resulting EP of covers was called Songs for Slim — their first recordings, save for two new tracks that showed up on a 2006 hits collection, since 1990's All Shook Down — which arrived early this year.

The rumors of a live reunion followed, and in June, the Riot Fest announcement came. As of this writing, these are the only three gigs the band has announced publicly, but Westerberg told a young fan in Toronto, "I'm sure we'll do something [in Minnesota]."

The Replacements exorcised some rock 'n' roll ghosts Sunday, August 25, at Riot Fest in Toronto. L-R: Tommy Stinson, Josh Freese, Paul Westerberg,  and David Minehan.
Ivy Lovell for City Pages
The Replacements exorcised some rock 'n' roll ghosts Sunday, August 25, at Riot Fest in Toronto. L-R: Tommy Stinson, Josh Freese, Paul Westerberg, and David Minehan.

Details

TORONTO SETLIST
8/25/13

Takin' a Ride
I'm in Trouble
Favorite Thing
Hangin' Downtown
Color Me Impressed
Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
Kiss Me on the Bus
Androgynous
Achin' to Be
I Will Dare
Love You Till Friday
Maybellene (Chuck Berry)
Merry Go Round
Wake Up
Borstal Breakout (Sham 69)
Little Mascara
Left of the Dial
Alex Chilton
Swingin' Party
Can't Hardly Wait
Bastards of Young

Encore:
Everything's Coming Up Roses
(stephen sondheim)
I.O.U.

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There will always be doubters who can't imagine this band without Mars or Bob Stinson or copious amounts of self-sabotaging booze, but this first Riot Fest gig gathered a multitude willing to renew their passports to see the Replacements for the first time in 22 years — or ever. Perhaps Westerberg would still say, officially, the band could never be "it" again. At least on Sunday this loss was the listener's gain. Mr. Formerly Too Cool to Care actually looked miffed when a "Swingin' Party" chord hit out of tune and he promptly apologized.

Things still ended on an aptly unapologetic note. The triumphant opening chords of pre-grunge anthem and set-closer "Bastards of Young" brought a gentle rain from the skies above Toronto, and a moshing thunderstorm on the ground. When the band snapped back minutes later, a lit-up middle finger made of spotlights glowed behind them for the final Iggy Pop-inspired encore, "I.O.U." But that prank was nothing compared to the full-scale downpour nature unloaded on everyone as they left the grounds. Somewhere Paul Westerberg can be content knowing Sunday night's crowd had a reason to be unsatisfied — even if it wasn't him.

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