The Replacements at Riot Fest 2013: photos and review
The Replacements were only a few songs into their headlining set last night at Riot Fest when I glanced at the middle-aged man standing next to me and noticed a few tears of joy trickling down his face. I can't begin to understand the elation that comes from seeing one of your favorite bands reunite after 22 years. I was three years old when the Replacements took their final bow at 1991's Taste of Chicago in Grant Park. What quickly became apparent was that the show was more than a long-awaited reunion—it was a homecoming of sorts. I spoke to a couple that flew in from New York to see the band and another that drove eight hours from Pittsburgh. Paul Westerberg's decision to take the stage with Tommy Stinson was a major coup for Riot Fest, an improbable occassion that drew impassioned fans from across the nation.
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Taking the stage to the opening strains of Sinatra's "That's Life," Westerberg and Stinson were joined by guitarist Dave Minehan and prolific session drummer Josh Freese. A notoriously unpredictable live act in its heyday, the band, with its current lineup, sounded well-rehearsed and supremely self-assured. "We haven't played these in three weeks," Westerberg joked before launching into "Taking a Ride," the opening track from the group's 1981 debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash.
A palpable energy permeated renditions of tracks such as "Favorite Thing" and "Color Me Impressed," as the group moved through a performance that didn't stray far from the the setlist it established at its inaugural reunion in Toronto three weeks earlier. The band's 25-song set touched upon every era of its storied career, along with covers of tracks by Chuck Berry and English punk band Sham 69. Westerberg's raspy growl was as powerful as ever as he belted out "Alex Chilton" and "Achin' to Be" with Stinson at his side.
True to form, the band put on a show that wasn't without its rough edges. Westerberg flubbed a few lyrics and could be heard calling out chords, but these small blemishes only served to heighten the authenticity of the performance. He even engaged in a little rock 'n' roll rebellion, chucking an onstage clock into the wings and informing the audience, "You can tell us when we have to stop." By the time the band broke into the exultant refrain of "Can't Hardly Wait," the fist-pumping crowd seemed to have lost its perception of time.
As the evening wound down, the transition to the performance's encore was marked by the group awkwardly walking offstage, only to reemerge a few seconds later. The sole stage decor—some lights arranged to form a hand with its middle finger extended—lit up as the band plowed through kiss-off anthem, "I.O.U." "I owe you nothing," Westerberg sang to an audience who witnessed exactly what they came to see—a triumphant return by a band that has proven to be truly irreplaceable.