I drove 400 miles, heading up Interstate highways from Chicago to St. Paul, Minn. Other people came from as far away as San Francisco; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Manchester, England. This was a pilgrimage. And these were Replacements fans.
The legendary, beloved 1980s rock band reunited for three shows last year, including a gig that I reviewed and photographed at Riot Fest in Chicago. A few more concerts followed this year, along with an appearance on The Tonight Show. … And now — finally! — the reunited “Mats” were playing on their home turf, the Twin Cities.
I arrived in St. Paul on Friday, Sept. 12, with a couple of friends from Chicago. Replacements tunes were blasting on the stereo in a backyard in St. Paul, where we met up with some other fans for a barbecue and party. I heard talk about people going to visit the old Stinson family house, where the Replacements once sat on a roof, posing for the cover of their album Let It Be.
At the end of the night, I stopped at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis, where a documentary, Color Me Obsessed, had screened earlier. I got there in time to see a few local bands paying tribute to the Replacements and raising money for former Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap, who suffered a stroke. A clearly inebriated guy in the audience enthusiastically pounded his hands on the stage to the beat.
On Saturday, the shuttle van from the motel to Midway Stadium stopped at a liquor store. And then everyone who was crammed into the van sang “Kiss Me on the Bus.” By the time we arrived in the parking lot of the minor league ballpark, it was filled with tailgate parties. Someone was flying a flannel shirt on a pole, like it was a flag for the Replacements nation. And plenty of people were wearing flannel shirts.
When the stadium opened, my friends and I happened to be standing right near some entry gates barely anyone else had noticed. We dashed through and staked out a spot about a dozen feet back from the stage. We held our spot during the enjoyable opening sets by Lucero and the Hold Steady. After the Hold Steady were done, the crowd suddenly got much tighter as people pushed forward — including a few young guys who made it clear that they were eager to mosh. “This is a punk show!” they announced to the mostly older Replacements fans.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman stepped out onto the stage and declared that it was Replacements Day in the city. A few minutes later, the Replacements made their entrance, wearing checkered suits and roaring through some of the earliest and roughest punk songs. The crowd around us erupting into spasms of waving arms, pogoing, pushing and the shouting of lyrics.
I did not take photos with my camera at the concert, but I did grab a few shots on my cellphone:
After a few songs, Replacements singer-songwriter-guitarist Paul Westerberg mumbled, “Sorry it took us so long” — seemingly offering an apology to the Twin Cities for taking so long to play a reunion show there. Or maybe more general regrets for disappearing for so many years? Bassist Tommy Stinson shot back: “No, you’re not.”
The concert was pretty similar to the other ones that the Replacements have played since reuniting, including last year’s Riot Fest show in Chicago. The band — Westerberg and Stinson, joined by two new members, drummer Josh Freese and guitarist Dave Minehan — was a bit tighter than they were last year. But not too slick, thankfully. A big part of the Replacements’ charm is the way they somehow add just enough sloppiness, just enough rough edges. It wouldn’t be so great if every note were perfect. Westerberg didn’t bother singing every word, sometimes letting the audience fill in the ones that were missing. Westerberg and Stinson smiled a lot, making it obvious that they were having fun. During “Kiss Me on the Bus,” Westerberg stepped over to Stinson and, after looking at him for a moment, grabbed him and kissed him on the mouth.
The first encore began with Westerberg playing an acoustic guitar by himself and singing “Skyway.” When the rest of the band returned, they tossed on personalized jerseys from the St. Paul Saints, the baseball team that plays in Midway Stadium. Westerberg joked about how silly it was. Then came two of the Replacements’ greatest songs, “Left of the Dial” and “Alex Chilton.”
The loud applause coaxed the band back for a second encore, with the song “Unsatisfied.” It looked like the band was ready to play one more song — probably “I.O.U.,” which was written on the set list sitting on the stage — but Westerberg was ready to call it a night. He went over to Stinson again and pulled him into a bear hug before leaving the stage. Stinson threw his bass across the stage, and a roadie grabbed it as the band departed.
This was the last event that will be held at Midway Stadium, which is scheduled for demolition. A few fans grabbed chunks of grass from the ground and took them out of the ballpark as souvenirs. This was the biggest concert the Replacements have ever played in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Who knows if they’ll ever play there again? Whatever. At least, on this one glorious night, it felt like the Replacements were the world’s greatest rock band.
Takin’ a Ride
I’m in Trouble
Don’t Ask Why
I’ll Be You
Waitress in the Sky
Tommy Got His Tonsils Out (with Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone From the Sun)
Take Me Down to the Hospital
I Want You Back (Jackson 5 cover)
Going to New York (Jimmy Reed cover, with Tony Glover)
Color Me Impressed
Nowhere Is My Home
If Only You Were Lonely
Achin’ to Be
Kiss Me on the Bus
I Will Dare
Love You Till Friday / Maybelline (Chuck Berry cover)
Merry Go Round
Borstal Breakout (Sham 69 cover)
Love You in the Fall
Can’t Hardly Wait
I Don’t Know / Buck Hill
Bastards of Young
Left of the Dial