The Replacements at Midway Stadium, St. Paul


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:


(Better photos are posted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s gallery and on the Current’s website. And check out fan LOV2ROK2PJ’s YouTube videos of the whole concert.)

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.


Favorite Thing
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
I Won’t
Borstal Breakout (Sham 69 cover)
Swingin’ Party
Love You in the Fall
Can’t Hardly Wait
I Don’t Know / Buck Hill
Bastards of Young

Left of the Dial
Alex Chilton


Riot Fest Recap

I’ve never been in a riot
I’ve never been in a fight
I’ve never been in anything
That turns out right
— Mekons, “Never Been in a Riot”

The only thing I saw at Riot Fest that came close to an actual riot was the young guys slam dancing amid the middle-aged Replacements fans on Sunday night. Or maybe the squeals of delight and grasping arms of all those teenage girls and 20ish women who’d thronged a barricade to watch the young men of the pop-punk band All Time Low might qualify as quasi-riotous.

Riot or not, which I wrote about earlier). But Riot Fest featured plenty of other noteworthy bands, including a number of iconic punk, post-punk and new wave acts who have been playing since the 1990s, ’80s or even the ’70s.

Joan Jett
Joan Jett

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts were the high point on Friday; even their new songs sounded good, though the crowd clearly wanted to hear the old hits, which Jett and her band delivered in style. The other bands that I caught on Friday — Screeching Weasel, Bad Religion, GWAR and Danzig — didn’t interest me as much, but I was impressed by Bad Religion’s ferocity. I stayed out of the way when GWAR began spraying fake blood at the crowd. See more photos from Day 1.


Saturday was filled with strong sets by “oldies” acts including an intense early-afternoon performance by X.

Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr. jammed out in the afternoon sun, closing its set with a great cover of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”

Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard looked tipsy as he came onstage, quickly chugging down some whisky, but as soon as the band started playing, he was kicking up his leg and twirling his microphone cord in classic GBV style.

Former members of the punk band Black Flag announced, “This is not Black Flag — this is Flag” … and then proceeded to play a bunch of Black Flag songs, prompting youngsters to crowd-surf.


Led by a warlock-outfit-wearing Debbie Harry, Blondie inspired some swooning by the band’s longtime fans. The old hits sounded good, even if the newer tunes and deeper cuts were less distinguished.

Public Enemy
Public Enemy

Public Enemy gave one of the weekend’s most galvanizing performances, with Chuck D and Flavor Flav jumping in tandem to the group’s political hip-hop anthems. (The area near the stage was so jampacked that I found myself caught in a dangerous crush of people when we photographers had to leave the photo pit.)

The Violent Femmes opened their concert with their biggest hits — which seemed like an odd choice, until it became clear that the group was playing the entirety of its 1983 self-titled debut album in sequence. And it just so happens that the record starts off with the group’s best-known songs. The Femmes played faithful versions of those tracks, prompting the crowd to sing along, but the show seemed to lose energy later on.

See more photos from Day 2.

Rain came pouring down on Sunday, dampening the spirit at Riot Fest, but the music went on. I showed up in time to catch the last few songs by Mission of Burma, including a solid rendition of “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver.” A bit later, Bob Mould played one of the festival’s most intense sets, joined by Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster and Chicago bassist Jason Narducy (who’s also in the touring version of Superchunk) — an ideal lineup to play the crunchy post-punk power pop of Mould’s solo albums and his recordings with Sugar. Mould told the crowd that he’s coming back to Chicago soon to make a new album.


Other highlights on Sunday included Rocket From the Crypt, who made a joyous racket as the downpour continued. I was less familiar with some of the younger bands that I saw, including Against Me!, Brand New, All Time Low and AFI, all of whom inspired fervent responses from their fans. AFI bounced around on the stage so much that it felt a bit like watching a post-punk version of Riverdance; it all seemed too choreographed. (I skipped seeing some of Riot Fest’s other bands entirely, including Friday’s headliner Fall Out Boy and Saturday’s headliner Blink-182. Not a fan of either.)

Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks

I did greatly enjoy the rainy midafternoon set by Chicago’s Twin Peaks. They might have been the youngest band playing the whole weekend, but their excellent lo-fi home recording Sunken shows that they know some garage-rock history. Their exuberant performance at Riot Fest included at least one new song as well as a cover of They Might Be Giants’ “Boss of Me” (the theme to the TV series Malcolm in the Middle).


The rain cleared up by the time darkness fell, though the ground was still muddy in many places, including the goopy photo pit in front of the Roots Stage, where Pixies played the weekend’s penultimate set. This is the first time the band has gone out on the road since founding bassist and backup singer Kim Deal quit. She was replaced by Kim Shattuck of the Muffs. If anything, Deal’s absence may have reduced the onstage tension that was apparent at some previous shows. With lights shining behind them and their faces shrouded in darkness, Pixies opened their set with two covers: The Fall’s “Big New Prinz” and the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On.” But by the time the Pixies were inspiring a crowd sing-along with “Wave of Mutilation,” I was heading over to the Riot Stage to get in line for the Replacements photo pit. It’s too bad you couldn’t hear the Pixies from over there; I would have loved to hear more of their set, but it was time to snag a spot for the Mats.

See more photos from Day 3 / Photos of the Replacements / A review of the Replacements

Replacements reunion

L99A4116For some reason that I cannot recall, I did not see the Replacements when I had a chance to see them play at a small club, Mabel’s in Champaign, circa 1986. I was a student at the University of Illinois, a fan of ’60s music just beginning to discover that there was such a thing as new bands making cool records. The Replacements had just released their terrific album Tim, and I had just discovered the band. I vaguely remember having some lame excuse for not going to that show … not having enough cash for the measly cover charge, or maybe having too much homework. Something like that. Looking back, it’s one of the concerts I most regret missing.

Luckily, I did get to see the Mats a couple of times before they broke up: one show at the Aragon, and then the 1991 concert that turned out to be the final Replacements gig ever — until now, anyway — when they finished unceremoniously, handing their instruments over to their roadies on the Petrillo Bandshell stage in Chicago’s Grant Park. As I recall, both of those shows were pretty good, but I felt like I’d missed the real Replacements — the earlier lineup of the band, which was famous for playing sloppy, drunken, raucous but often brilliant gigs. Maybe I was just feeling envious of the people who could say, “I saw them back then.”

When the Replacements made the surprise announcement that they were reuniting for three Riot Fest concerts in Toronto, Chicago and Denver, it wasn’t the least bit surprising that people immediately started debating whether this was really the Replacements. True, this is not the same band that played those legendary gigs, like the one captured on the “official bootleg,” The Shit Hits the Fans. And no one has a time machine to take us back to one of those gigs. But this was the Replacements’ driving force, singer-songwriter-guitarist Paul Westerberg, reuniting with another original member, bassist Tommy Stinson, and playing Mats songs. So what if the other musicians (drummer Josh Freese and guitarist Dave Minehan) were new guys?

If you had any doubts that this was actually the Replacements, they should’ve been erased by the sight and sound of these guys onstage Sunday night at Riot Fest (Sept. 15) in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. Westerberg’s face frequently broke out into a grin. It was obvious both he and Stinson were having a blast as they tore through some of the hard-edged garage rock songs they played together as teens a few decades ago. In the years since the Replacements broke up, Westerberg has been a mercurial figure, rarely giving interviews, sporadically putting out solo music and giving little hint that he had any interest in ever doing a Replacements reunion. But he did not give off the air of someone who was just going through the motions or reluctantly taking the stage. He looked like he was reveling in the moment.

The Replacements powered through their harder-rocking songs. Videos and recordings of the band’s Aug. 25 show in Toronto showed that this Replacements lineup was already sounding tight, and they clicked once again Sunday during their triumphant return to Chicago, the city where the old Mats broke up onstage. But it wouldn’t be a true Replacements gig without at least a little bit of sloppiness, or some goofy offhanded remarks by Westerberg.

As he flubbed the lyrics to “Androgynous,” Westerberg said, “I forgot the fucking words,” and laughed at himself. During “Swinging Party,” he asked Minehan to change the tone of his guitar. “Could you lose that Cure thing? That vibe,” he said — and then, before getting back into the song, he blurted out, “I don’t know what the second verse is. … I got it, I got it, I got it.” At another point during the show, Westerberg did a bit of Tarzan dialogue.


Aside from those asides, Westerberg reminded me of what a great vocalist he is, delivering his memorable turns of phrase with such natural ease and emotion. At times, he would let himself fall a beat or two behind, slipping back into the melody with timing something like a jazzy lounge singer.

When the Replacements played a frenzied cover of the English punk band Sham 69’s “Borstal Breakout,” some slam dancing broke out in the crowd near where I was standing. Young guys in black punk-rock T-shirts started flinging themselves at one another, and the middle-aged Replacements fans standing nearby moved back to give the crazy kids some space (and to protect themselves from getting slammed).

The high points for me were the Mats classics “Left of the Dial,” “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Bastards of Young,” which this band — Westerberg, Stinson, Freese and Minehan, or whatever you choose to call them — played with all the youthful spirit of the old Mats. It wasn’t exactly like going back with a time machine, but it was the closest thing available to that.

Set list: Takin’ a Ride / 
I’m in Trouble
 / Favorite Thing
 / Hangin’ Downtown / 
I Don’t Know
/ Color Me Impressed
 / Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
 / Achin’ to Be
 / Androgynous (with a bit of Hank Williams’ Hey Good Lookin’) / 
I Will Dare / 
Love You Till Friday/ Maybelline
 (Chuck Berry cover) / Merry Go Round / 
Wake Up
 / Borstal Breakout (Sham 69 cover)
 / Little Mascara
 / Left of the Dial / 
Alex Chilton / 
Swinging Party / 
Kiss Me on the Bus
 / Waitress
 in the Sky / Can’t Hardly Wait / 
Bastards of Young / 
Hold My Life / 

See more of my photos of the Replacements at Riot Fest.

(In the next few days, I’ll be posting photos of other bands I saw at Riot Fest, along with a recap of the festival.)