The Replacements - Live in Chicago (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Replacements

Live in Chicago (2013)

live show

I’ve been on a huge Replacements kick lately. Blame it on Trouble Boys:The True Story of The Replacements, the incredibly well researched and written biography of the band by Bob Mehr. I’ve long been a fan of the first five records, the Bob Stintson era, but could never get into the later stuff. I’ve been relistening to the last three albums as I read about them being made, and it only confirmed my previous opinion. But I digress…

The Replacements’ acrimonious split came the year I graduated from high school. I never got to see the band play during their original run. The truth is, they were barely on my radar. By the time I became a fan, it looked like the chances of me ever seeing them live were slim to none. Then, like a light breaking through the darkness, those persuasive folks at Riot Fest managed to book them for a couple of gigs.

The first Replacements show in more than 22 years was at the Toronto Riot Fest on August 25th, 21013. The second show of their reunion tour was at the Chicago Riot Fest on September 15th, 2013. That was the show I was lucky enough to be at. There probably needs to be an asterisk next to these shows, as by this point the only original Replacements were singer/songwriter/guitarist Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stintson.

Original lead guitarist Bob Stintson was kicked out of the band in 1986, and sadly, drank himself to death by 1995. Original drummer Chris Mars quit in 1990, before the band could finish their 1991 “traveling wake” farewell tour. He has shown no interest in rejoining the band, at least not as their drummer. Steve Foley, the drummer who replaced him for that final tour, died in 2008. The other key replacement Replacement, Slim Dunlap, might have actually been the bigger force that brought the band back together.

Dunlop filled Bob Stintson’s big shoes for the final years of the band. He was both a skilled guitarist and the yin to Westerberg’s yang. In 2012, Dunlap had a severe stroke, and it motivated his former bandmates to rally around him. A new Replacements EP, Songs For Slim, was recorded to raise money for his medical expenses. (Mars, always the visual artist, designed the cover.) The Gutter Twins (a play on The Glimmer Twins of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) were back!

Filling in for Mars for this unlikely comeback was Josh Freese. That name should be familiar to punk fans. He’s played with The Vandals, Devo, Suicidal Tendencies, The Offspring, Dwarves, Weezer, Nine Inch Nails and Paramore. He’s also worked with acts as eclectic and mainstream as A Perfect Circle, Sting, Queens of the Stone Age, Infectious Grooves and even The Boss! There are many more too. Needless to say, the guy’s a pro’s pro. Assuming six string duties was the relatively unknown, to me at least, Dave Mineham.

If the first six paragraphs of context weren’t enough, here’s one more. The big reunion shows at Riot Fest are usually the closer at the very end, on Sunday night. So by the time they go on, a lot of people, myself included, have had two and a half days of hot sun, carnival food, loud music and excessive drinking. It’s not easy to hold people’s attention till the bitter end, but The Replacements did it. Like all great shows, there were even a few chill-down-your-spine moments.

Dressed in their finest nearly floor length skirts, the boys from Minneapolis started off by tearing through a spirited version of “Takin a Ride”. They followed that up by launching into “I’m in Trouble”, “Favorite Thing” and “Hangin Downtown”. Unlike in their heyday, they actually tried to play a crowd pleasing set. And even more than that, they tailored it to the “punk” audience at Riot Fest.

During The Replacements’ original 12 year run, they were notorious for getting extremely drunk and antagonizing the audience. They would get a read on what they felt the crowd wanted, and then give them the opposite. Shows could range from inspired brilliance to drunken disasters. That was actually part of their lore, their undeniable allure. Some of those old tricks just weren’t going to work for the sober ‘Mats. Light crossdressing and loud plaid suits aside, they played a pretty straightforward set.

Most of the “hits” were there. “Color Me Impressed”, “Achin’ to Be”, “I Will Dare”, “Merry Go Round”, “Little Mascara”, Left of the Dial”, “Alex Chilton”, “Kiss Me on the Bus”, “Can’t Hardly Wait” and main set closer “Bastards of Young” all brought massive roars of approval. “Androgynous” somehow morphed into Hank Williams “Hey Good Lookin’”. There were other covers too, including Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” and Sham 69’s “Borstal Breakout”.

The most obvious omission was “Unsatisfied”. Could it be that after all those years Westerberg and company were actually satisfied, happy even? It certainly looked like they were having fun. The lighthearted interplay between Paul and Tommy was a joy to behold. The two song encore punctuated the 25 song performance with “Hold My Life” and “I.O.U.”. When it was over, the massive crowd disappeared back into the night. The Replacements would make it almost two years before imploding again.

The Replacements “last” show was at the Taste of Chicago in Grant Park on July 4, 1991. They played a ramshackle set for an estimated 25,000, their biggest crowd ever to date. There might have been twice that many people at this show. Lots of older folks came to Riot Fest just to see The ‘Mats. It was not an ideal way to see a band that only played clubs and small theatres in their prime, but it was still a great experience, and I’m glad I was able to be there. It actually salvaged the whole weekend, which was a mixed bag at best.

You can find multiple versions of this show online, if you’d like to get a feel for it. What I’d suggest instead, is that you look up the now legendary 1986 Saturday Night Live performance that got them banned from network television. It’s the original lineup, drunk as hell, tearing through “Bastards of Young” and “Kiss Me on the Bus”. On “Bastards”, Paul keeps sabotaging the song by walking away from the mic during the chorus. He also yells fuck, barely off the mic. Bob, dressed in drag, comes in late for his solo. He still manages to rip, and when the song is all over, he does an awkward backward roll.

Everybody but Bob switched clothes for “Kiss Me”, and they screwed up the beginning and have to start twice. Afterwards, Bob throws his guitar straight up in the air and it comes loudly crashing down. It was perfect musical chaos. When it comes to wild, self-destructive bands like The Replacements, you can never really go back. Still, it’s cool that I was able to catch a glimpse of that old magic, even if only for an hour or two.