The Replacements reunite at Riot Fest, 8/25/13

The Replacements reunite at Riot Fest, 8/25/13
Photo by Ivy Lovell

The Replacements
Riot Fest
Fort York, Toronto
Sunday, August 25, 2013

Three decades ago, Paul Westerberg's opening lyrics from the Replacements' "I Will Dare" asked no one in particular, "How young are you? How old am I?" Now 53 years old, the rock star with a serious J.D. Salinger streak -- who emerged in a plaid suitcoat and mismatched socks Sunday in Toronto -- dedicated that song to anyone begrudgingly dragged out of seclusion, including himself.

Just by strolling onto the Riot Fest stage -- as Pavement's "Stereo" blared through the PA -- Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson, guitarist David Minehan, and drummer Josh Freese proved the impossible to be anything but. Still, loose talk and expectations have stuck to the band like a skunk's odor since Twin/Tone's Peter Jesperson snapped them up in 1980. Yes, all 16 of their limbs were functional, but there was a heap more to prove at the first Replacements show since the last lineup passed their instruments to roadies mid-song in 1991 and disappeared.

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In the 22 years since, Westerberg recorded and performed primarily as a solo artist -- save for two new tracks that showed up on a 2006 Replacements hits collection. "Let's face it, the real fans are pretty old now. I mean, the ones who never saw it will never see it again, because even if we got together, we could never be it..." Paul Westerberg told Bill Holdship in a 2002 interview. "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 counting on was 'Mats guitarist Bob "Slim" Dunlap -- who replaced founding axeman Bob Stinson in '86 -- suffering a debilitating stroke last year. Not long after, 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* on an EP of covers called Songs for Slim, which arrived early this year. The rumors of a live reunion followed, and in June, Riot Fest announced that all three of its events -- in Toronto, Chicago, and Denver -- would feature the reformed (and reconfigured) Replacements.

The Replacements reunite at Riot Fest, 8/25/13
The Replacements reunite at Riot Fest, 8/25/13
Photos by Ivy Lovell

Where it began was the final slot of Riot Fest Toronto's second night, and the foursome received exploded-heart greetings from faces mature enough to catch the original 'Mats lineup at the Longhorn in '80, as well as others who entered the world well after All Shook Down. But for the 75 gripping minutes of the band's headlining set -- and, let's be real, for the Iggy & the Stooges devastation that preceded it -- the rowdy audience of nearly 10,000 was reborn as screaming, dust-kicking bastards of young.

Starting with a loud and fast trio of "Takin a Ride," "I'm in Trouble," and "Hangin' Downtown"  from 1981's Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash -- with the equally blistering "Favorite Thing" -- the guys continued the day's punk attitude instilled by the Stooges. Stinson was immediately a magnetic presence at Westerberg's side, and punctuated his motions with waves of his bass's headstock. Bowtie-clad Minehan and giddy kid in a candy store Freese powered this machine with ease into "Color Me Impressed." 

The physical commotion subsided somewhat as "Kiss Me on the Bus" cued up, and after a few lines, Westerberg missed a few words, and then a few more. His grin that followed could've been sheepishness or smug satisfaction, but the sing-along that emerged from the audience was undeniably loyal. Everyone backed him up, and the vocal support continued lustily along during a call for requests.

A low-key "Androgynous" was settled upon, and again there were some moments when Westerberg retreated from the material. But these Replacements fans of 2013 are a resilient bunch, and proved too transfixed by the situation to let their hero get in serious trouble. Instead, the song built into a glow that bounced from every corner of the park and lingered on a blissful Stinson.
Westerberg's vocals grew powerful yet playful on "Achin' to Be" and "I Will Dare" and then "the man with a black guitar that sounds like a banjo" led his band through a scorching Sorry Ma-era "Love You Till Friday." What might have devolved into a messy cover in the band's more intoxicated years was instead supplemented by a killer transition into Chuck Berry's rollicking "Maybelline." Add a vicious run through Sham 69's "Borstal Breakout" and  the Gypsy show tune "Everything's Coming Up Roses" that they recorded for Songs for Slim during the encore, and this was far from a shit-hitting-the-fans experience. 

The Replacements reunite at Riot Fest, 8/25/13
Photo by Ivy Lovell

With steady hands on his guitar, Westerberg led a quick transition from "Little Mascara" into "Left of the Dial." Then "Alex Chilton." It was a trifecta of fun, and by this point, he had ditched his plaid jacket and was sweating through his shirt. With a few winks, some playful singing out of the side of his mouth, and the tight orchestration of his team, he almost seemed to enjoy making like a spiky Bruce Springsteen. It set the table for "Swingin' Party," which was dedicated to Dunlap, and proved to be the mellowest moment of the night -- about the only thing without a hint of a sneer. This crowd was too busy hugging itself to sneer back anyhow.

There will always be doubters who can't imagine this band without Chris Mars or Bob Stinson or copious amounts of self-sabotaging booze, but this first Riot Fest gig gathered a multitude willing to undertake international travel 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. But 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.

But things ended on an aptly unapologetic note. The triumphant opening chords of 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 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 something to be unsatisfied about -- even if it wasn't him. 

*Chris Mars created artwork and submitted a song for Songs for Slim, but didn't record with Westerberg and Tommy Stinson.

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: Enough people from Minneapolis to fill the 7th St. Entry, and a whole lot of merch-buying 'Mats fans from all over.

Personal Bias: This blog is called Gimme Noise and we're "some local page," ferchristsakes! Sunday didn't feel like just an obligation traded for some cash from the dusty hole where this reviewer stood.

Random Detail:
Paul came back for the encore wearing a red Montreal Canadiens jersey with Georges Laraque's name on the back.

The Replacements reunite at Riot Fest, 8/25/13
Photo by Reed Fischer

The Replacements' Setlist:

Takin' a Ride
I'm in Trouble
Favorite Thing
Hangin' Downtown
Color Me Impressed
Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
Kiss Me on the Bus
Achin' to Be
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
Can't Hardly Wait
Bastards of Young

Everything's Coming Up Roses

The Replacements reunite at Riot Fest, 8/25/13
Photo by Kyle Matteson

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