The one big takeaway from seeing the Replacements reunion a second time in Chicago on Sunday night: Toronto was no fluke.
Returning to the city where their old band played its final show pre-breakup in 1991, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson pretty evenly matched the spirit and surprising sharpness they showed with their remade foursome in Canada last month -- even while trying to downplay how ready and willing they were for the second of their three multi-city RiotFest gigs.
“We haven’t played in three weeks, but [expletive] it,” Westerberg shrugged before the band kicked the door down again with “Takin’ a Ride” and “I’m in Trouble,” the same two bratty anthems that opened the Toronto set.
Aside from the fact that there were about two to three times as many people watching them (my guess is around 25,000), Sunday’s performance was identical to its predecessor up until the fifth song. Not only did the fellas change up the set list by adding in one of their punkiest late-era songs, “I Don’t Know,” they changed up that particular song by dropping in a minute or so of “Buck Hill” right in the middle of it.
Two more fan favorites not played in Toronto also popped up near the end of the Chicago show: “Waitress in the Sky,” which was lazily paced and edged on slapstick, and “Hold My Life,” which kicked off the encore way better than did “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” in Toronto (the only one left off the list Sunday). For those keeping score at home, that made 1985’s “Tim” far and away the most heavily favored album in the set list, with seven of its 10 tracks featured.
Sporting a Dorf-looking outfit with low-cut shorts and high socks, Westerberg didn’t forget the lyrics to “I Will Dare” and “Androgynous” or any other songs this time, like he did in Toronto. However, he did intentionally muck up “Androgynous” by asking the crowd mid-song about Joan Jett’s performance two days prior at RiotFest. He also sabotaged “Swingin’ Party” (which was an emotional apex in Toronto) by giving replacement guitarist David Minehan a hard time about his playing in it.
“Can you lose the Cure thing?” Paul smirkingly asked his new guitarist -- and then went over and shut off one of his pedals. Later, he cracked to Minehan, “We could get Bob Mould up here in an instant, buddy.”
(Westerberg’s old Twin Cities peer/rival performed at RiotFest earlier in the day; and was once again stellar. His fast-and-furious 40-minute set included half of Sugar’s “Copper Blue” album, a few from last year’s “Silver Age,” and then five Hüsker Dü classics, including “Something I Learned Today,” “Chartered Trips” and “Flip Your Wig.” Mould said he and his all-cylinders band will be back in Chicago in a month to record a new album).
Never mind Westerberg’s busting of Minehan’s chops. He and fellow Replacements replacement Josh Freese – both of whom toured with Westerberg in the early-‘90s – provide the steady backbone of the band at this point, freeing up the original members to play it loose without ever devolving into a debacle. Westerberg seemed to thrive off this freedom, turning in an even more impressive and at times absolutely passionate vocal performance in this second reunion gig, whether it was singing the sophisticated pop melodies of “Achin’ to Be” or snarling through “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “Wake Up.” Nine years off did his wonders for his voice, it seems.
“Been having fun today?” the (formerly) reclusive frontman asked the crowd, which stood through rain through all day Sunday but finally dried off just before the ‘Mats took the stage -- yes, almost as if God approves, even if Jim DeRogatis doesn’t.
“I’ve been having the time of my life,” he added with a facetious eye-roll. Once again, it looked like he and Tommy really were having a blast, which bodes well for next week’s final RiotFest gig in Denver. As for lingering fear among fans that Denver might be the last of these reunion gigs: Anyone who’s seen these first two shows will now roll their eyes at that notion.
Here's the full set list from Sunday below. Click here for Leslie Plesser's gallery from the Chicago RiotFest.
Takin’ a Ride / I’m in Trouble / Favorite Thing / Hanging Downtown / I Don’t Know (with Buck Hill) / Color Me Impressed / Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out / Androgynous / Achin’ to Be / I Will Dare / Love You Till Friday / Merry Go Round / Wake Up / Borstal Breakout (Sham 69 cover) / Little Mascara / Left of the Dial / Alex Chilton / Swingin’ Party / Kiss Me on the Bus / Waitress in the Sky / Can’t Hardly Wait / Bastards of Young ENCORE: Hold My Life / I.O.U.