The 'Mats' legendary 1984 disc was revived with an all-star tribute concert Friday at First Avenue.
"A big town's got its losers, a small town's got its vices."
Those lyrics from the Replacements' song "Answering Machine" strongly resonated Friday night at First Avenue, when the small-town-cliquish Twin Cities music scene came together in a big way to celebrate its most legendary losers -- with a vice or two thrown in for good measure.
Sung by Semisonic's Dan Wilson, "Answering Machine" wound down a four-hour tribute to the Replacements that climaxed with an all-star revival of the Minneapolis quartet's most seminal album "Let It Be," which turned 25 this year. That's how old frontman Paul Westerberg was when he made the record. (Predictably, neither he nor the other surviving 'Mats showed on Friday.)
Ranked the 15th best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone magazine, "Let It Be" epitomized the transition from angsty, punk-rocking youth to bluer, ballad-writing adulthood. The singers who revived it Friday ranged in age from college-age songstresses Sarah Nienaber (of Gospel Gossip) and Caroline Smith to 50-something vets Dale T. Nelson (Otto's Chemical Lounge) and Curtiss A.
Ironically, it was the older guys who raised the hellfire in the punkier tunes ("Favorite Thing" and "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out"), while the kids handled the lighter fare, "Sixteen Blue" and "Androgynous."
Other highlights included Honeydog Adam Levy's stormy handling of "Unsatisfied," Tapes 'N Tapes frontman Josh Grier's snarling "Black Diamond" (a Kiss cover featured on the album) and former Selby Tigress Arzu's smirking tear through "Gary's Got a Boner." The singers were stridently backed by a coolly mish-mash band led by guitarist Terry Eason and featuring Melismatics members Ryan Smith and Pony Hixon-Smith and Heiruspecs' Peter Leggett and Devon Gray.
Friday's 'Mats marathon impressed photographer Daniel Corrigan more than a lot of the gigs he saw by the real Replacements, who split up in 1991.
"I saw them play about 10 times, and at about eight of the shows the band was hopelessly drunk," said Corrigan, who shot the "Let It Be" cover photo of the four members on a house roof. The album cover was reinvented as a life-size painting Friday with cut-out head slots for fans to pose in, a stunt Corrigan assumed the band would deride -- "philosophically, and maybe legally too," he quipped.
Surely, though, the disarray-loving Replacements would have appreciated the spirited, loose and often bleary design of the rest of Friday's tribute.
Performances in the neighboring 7th Street Entry were especially all over the map. Rowdy garage-rocker Stook! rambled through ramshackle versions of "Kids Don't Follow" and "I.O.U." Quirky Patches & Gretchen played a sloppy set of non-Replacements tunes that seemed to be delivered entirely on a whim, including "Mr. Bojangles" (the 'Mats themselves liked to drop surprises into their sets).
But there were also some meticulously delivered tributes, such as Jeremy Messersmith's serene version of "Skyway," which the singer called "the best song about Minneapolis-St. Paul ever written."
"In some ways, that's very liberating to recognize," Messersmith added. In other words, if you can't beat the Replacements at their game, you might as well join 'em.
See the full "Let It Be" set list at startribune.com/artcetera.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658