The Replacements at Riot Fest Chicago, 9/15/13

The Replacements at Riot Fest Chicago, 9/15/13
Photo by Erik Hess

The Replacements
Riot Fest, Humboldt Park, Chicago
Sunday, September 15, 2013

You can't turn back the clock. This was especially true when Paul Westerberg ripped the thing out of its socket, twirled it by the cord, and chucked the extinguished red LED readout like a sack of garbage. Time hasn't stood still since the Replacements headed into hiatus/who-the-fuck-knows-if-they'll-ever-play-again mode 22 years ago in Chicago, but it sure felt like it during a long, soggy Sunday of emo bands that came before them at the second 2013 running of Riot Fest. 

If the first of the three planned Replacements reunion shows was a triumphant dress rehearsal in Canada, number two proved to display even more raw power -- even without Iggy Pop to set the table for them.

See Also: Slideshow: The Replacements at Riot Fest Chicago
*The Replacements reunite at Riot Fest Toronto, 8/25/13

Playing as well or better than one did a quarter of a century back is a daunting task, but zooming past the precedent set three weeks ago was well within the Replacements' reach. It began "At 90 miles an hour, slidin' on grease," as the band tore through "Takin' a Ride" and four other lean punk cuts -- including a "Buck Hill" interlude -- in their first 10 minutes onstage. "Give us a second," implored bassist Tommy Stinson after bouncing around his side of the stage like a top during "Hangin' Downtown." "We lost a knob."

The Replacements at Riot Fest Chicago, 9/15/13
The Replacements at Riot Fest Chicago, 9/15/13
The Replacements at Riot Fest Chicago, 9/15/13
Photos by Erik Hess

Last night's Replacements were a tighter unit. Drummer Josh Freese could spend even more time grinning as he bashed out celebratory fills ahead, behind, and often deep in the songs' cosmic innards. Equally impressed by his surroundings, Stinson's thundrous bass backing, manical grins, and one-liners held the night together. A stronger and finely tuned sound system -- which still couldn't save the stage's previous inhabitants, AFI, from their tendencies for dreck -- greatly benefited lead guitarist David Minehan. Mostly, this meant that his backup harmonies and quick lead parts coated Westerberg's lyrics like maple syrup. However, it got the best of him during "Swingin' Party." "Can we lose that Cure thing?" Westerberg teased, and mockingly examined Minehan's pedals. "We can get Bob Mould up here in an instant, buddy."

P-dubs himself seemed more comfortable than at his Toronto reemergence, but didn't look that comfortable. After the disorienting "Swingin' Party," he crankily reprimanded himself, "Boo! Tarzan stink." At moments, grandpaboy Westerberg was undeniably clawing at his own skin -- even when he was nailing the vocals of "Bastards of Young," "Alex Chilton," and so many others -- he was generous enough to pull us up onto the shrink's couch next to him. "I've been having the time of my life," he said sarcastically before launching into a polished "Merry Go Round." (The way he spit out his gum with exaggerated disgust during that one was priceless.)
The years have left chinks in the the Replacements' already rusty armor -- the exit of Chris Mars, the deaths of Bob Stinson and Steve Foley, and Slim Dunlap's recent stroke -- but Westerberg and fellow founding member Tommy Stinson have kept the potent rockabilly, punk, country, and alt-rock template they invented in a safe deposit box where its value could increase with age. Songs with true feeling that came long before their time, especially "I Will Dare" and "Left of the Dial," came off far fresher than the weekend's hodgepodge of overwrought emo-drama and posturing -- excluding Guided by Voices, Joan Jett, and a few others.

The Replacements at Riot Fest Chicago, 9/15/13
The Replacements at Riot Fest Chicago, 9/15/13
Photos by Erik Hess

It's easy to come back to the timepiece Westerberg eventually demolished to the chants of "Fuck that clock!" The gesture didn't mean that the show went overtime and ended on some "Kids Don't Follow"-type standoff with the Chicago Police Department. With 10 minutes before the power would be cut, the 'Mats hustled offstage like they were playing hide-and-seek, and burst back on for "Hold My Life" and "I.O.U." with the return of the middle finger made out of spotlights. For some, the clock's face -- okay, technically it was a digital readout -- is the ugliest imaginable, but this band has impressively wrestled time over to their side instead of defying it.

The Replacements at Riot Fest Chicago, 9/15/13
Photo by Erik Hess

Personal Bias: Wearing waterproof shoes definitely enhanced my second Replacements show in under a month. But it didn't hurt that they were even more spit-polished and good-natured about their business than the last time out.

The Crowd: Everyone was a little bit wet and delirious by the time the 'Mats came on. A lot of ball caps and beards and grizzled stories in every direction, and a fistfight that eventually just evaporated when the dudes realized that they were missing an amazing concert.

Overheard: "Run Westy Run was a great fucking live band." "I wanna hear 'Answering Machine.'" "Where's the backup middle finger?" "Is that Gary Louris?" "This is the longest I've ever waited in line for Dave Matthews Band tickets by far. Jesus Christ!"

The Replacements' Setlist:

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

Hold My Life

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