For a band that made imperfection an art form and never seemed satisfied in its heyday, the Replacements sure did not live up to the past Saturday night at Midway Stadium. Thank god.
The legendarily unsung ’80s band surrounded itself with surprisingly perfect circumstances for its long-awaited, hugely hyped hometown reunion concert, the first local Replacements show in 23 years.
Everything felt so right Saturday night, in fact, the big question of whether or not the notoriously erratic band was going to blow it or blow ’em away almost seemed beside the point. There was no question which way things fell, though.
Even before the reborn ’Mats showed their smirking faces, the sold-out crowd of 14,000 seemed electrified and elated. There was something idyllic and poetic about the location: a low-rent, no-frills minor-league ballpark that’s about to be put out to pasture, one that lies squarely between the blue-collar, fun-loving downtown to its east and the flashier, more full-of-itself city to the west. Sounds about right for the Replacements.
What’s more, the weather turned out crisp, golden and tailor-made for stadium tailgating in flannel shirts, and the opening bands proved wisely chosen and visibly excited to be involved. Lucero kicked off the music at 7 p.m. with a rich set of horns-infused Memphis alt-twangy boogie rock, highlighted by the crescendoing “Tears Don’t Matter Much.”
The Hold Steady cut to the chase with opening favorite “Little Hoodrat Friend” and crammed in 11 more songs in 45 minutes, all replete with ’Mats influence and shout-outs to the local haunts of Edina-reared frontman Craig Finn’s youth. There simply was no better local band to open this one — never mind that this one band is based in New York (where the Hold Steady will resume its ’Mats opening duties again next weekend).
There was a Minnesotanness to the entire proceedings. Wearing matching plaid suits that harked back to their goofy attire of old, the band walked out to the giddy sounds of the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” coming out of the speakers. They brought out another Minneapolis music legend of the ’60s, harmonica ace Tony Glover — “a real musician,” as frontman Paul Westerberg introduced him — for a surprisingly taut blues jam through Jimmy Reed’s “Going to New York.”
Best and most Minne-centric of all, they dug in and went to work. Instead of the messy, black-eyed, get-a-noseful shows of old, this one was more nose-to-the-grindstone. The oddest thing about Saturday’s 1¾-hour set might have been how little oddball behavior there was.
Sure, Westerberg and the only other original member left, bassist Tommy Stinson, shared a few funny exchanges. Like when Westerberg said he was sorry the local fans had to wait a year for the show. “No you’re not,” Stinson insisted.
At show’s end, the whole band — including the replacement Replacements Josh Freese (drums) and David Minehan (guitar) — donned matching St. Paul Saints baseball jerseys for the last song, purportedly to cover up from the cold. “You think Bob Dylan ever rocked one of these?” Westerberg cracked, referring to one of Midway’s most frequent headliners.
But mostly the new ’Mats just took care of business. Like their 10 previous shows since the first in Toronto a year ago, they opened with a batch of fast, snarling oldies. “Favorite Thing” and “Takin’ a Ride” kicked off the first-round assault, and an all-too-appropriate “Don’t Ask Why” delivered the first knockout moment.
After switching modes for two melodic, sophisticated late-era fan faves, “I’ll Be You” and “Valentine,” the guys slid back into several more rowdy, gritty, snotty rockers, including “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “Take Me to the Hospital” — both altered to great effect. The former was stretched out by tacking on a minute or two of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun.” The latter was stretched out by Westerberg either intentionally or unintentionally dropping some of the lyrics, forcing some musical improv that bounced back ferociously.
No surprise that the rockiest rockers were tight, bouncy and wicked, as has been the case at the other shows, with Freese appearing to be the primary culprit. What really made the hometown show feel special were the quieter, more introspective moments.
Westerberg sang with unusual tenderness — soft, raspy, sadly beautiful — in the mid-show highlights “If Only You Were Lonely” and “Androgynous.” He once again botched the lyrics at the end of the latter ballad, but his smile after hearing the crowd fill in the words suggested he perhaps did so on purpose.
Toward show’s end is where things really got unusually lovely and emotional, with two songs the band had yet to play with the new lineup: “Skyway,” which Westerberg played by himself to kick off the first encore, and “Unsatisfied,” which they saved for the one-song second encore and turned into the most perfect part of the night.
If Saturday’s show winds up being the last time a band billing itself as the Replacements performs at home, fans who were there can take it with satisfaction. Going into the concert, altruistic ’Mats lovers were busy debating the merits of this so-called reunion lineup and whether or not it lives up to the band’s legacy. This show actually rewrote that legacy.
All the fondness over the messy, mayhem-fueled local Replacements shows of old can still stand. More than ever, though, Westerberg and Stinson can also brag about having the occasional “on” night when they did justice to some of the greatest rock ’n’ roll songs of all time. That was Saturday’s set in a nutshell.
Here's the Midway Stadium set list:
Favorite Thing / Takin' a Ride / I'm in Trouble / Don't Ask Why / I'll Be You / Valentine / Waitress in Sky / Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out (with Hendrix's Third Stone From the Sun) / Take Me Down to the Hospital / I Want You Back (Jackson Five cover) / Going to New York (Jimmy Reed cover with Tony Glover on harmonica) / Color Me Impressed / Nowhere Is My Home / If Only Uou Were Lonely / Achin' to Be / Kiss Me on the Bus / Androgynous / I Will Dare / Love You Till Friday (with Chuck Berry's Maybellene) / Merry Go Round / I Won't / Borstal Breakout (Sham 69 cover) / Swingin' Party / Love You in the Fall / Can't Hardly Wait / Bastards of Young / I Don't Know (with Buck Hill)
ENCORE 1: Skyway / Left of the Dial / Alex Chilton ENCORE 2: Unsatisfied