Pete Hilgendorf flew to the Twin Cities from Seattle this weekend just to see the reunited Replacements, Minneapolis’ legendary 1980s rock band, at Midway Stadium in St. Paul even though he’d seen them two weeks ago where he lives.
“I knew the stadium would be an enormous bundle of emotion, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Hilgendorf, who grew up in Apple Valley, said during Saturday’s concert. “The crowd is completely into it. And Paul Westerberg is putting far more into this one.”
The concert sold out in about 10 minutes — all 14,000 tickets. And fans flew in from all over the country to see the Replacements, the beloved quartet dubbed in the current issue of Rolling Stone as “the greatest band that never was.”
The rock bible called the Replacements the “most exciting rockers of the ’80s to not hit it big.” But the band, which rocked from 1980 to ’91, was cult-loved and influential — important enough to be nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year but not garner enough votes for induction.
Given all the gloves, hoodies, scarves, blankets and stocking caps, most of the fans were prepared for the brisk 52-degree weather. The four Replacements came out in matching gray-and-white plaid suits, with each member wearing a different shirt.
“Sorry it took us so long,” Westerberg, 54, said early on. “This one is called ‘I’ll Be Y’all’ ”. Then he played “I’ll Be You,” flubbing a lyric but managing to get the key line “rebel without a clue” right.
Then Westerberg, forever the wiseacre, said, “You have to forgive us. It’s colder than we thought. You paid, so we came.”
And they brought at least one surprise — legendary Twin Cities blues harmonica player Tony Glover to join them on an old blues tune, Jimmy Reed’s “Going to New York.”
This performance was quite different from the ’Mats’ last Twin Cities gig in 1991 at the Orpheum Theatre.
“They owe us from that show,” said Nathan Voerding, 51, of St. Paul. “They were hammered. It was the worst concert ever.”
That was the thing about the Replacements — frontman Westerberg wrote brilliantly emotional songs but the band had a tendency to get drunk and indulged in covers of an odd lot of songs. And fans never knew which Replacements would show up.
Hilgendorf, 47, who used to play in the 1990s Minneapolis band the Whirligigs, understood the appeal of the ’Mats.
“As much as it was a raucous party, you’ve got to take this music seriously,” he said. “It wasn’t about cars and girls and partying. It was about getting in touch with yourself as a person. Tonight, they kissed. They cried. And not just Paul and Tommy” Stinson, the other original band member, who embraced Westerberg at the end of the 1 ¾-hour concert and then walked off with their arms around one another.
Minneapolis musician and writer Jim Walsh, who has written two books about the Replacements, thinks the band’s “time away is what makes this concert feel so epic. And there are so many people here who have never seen them.”
Drew Eckley, 20, and her brother, Quinn, 17, were obviously attending their first ‘Mats show but, as Quinn said, “we’re products of a retro music home.” Yes, mom brought them from Fergus Falls for a weekend of three Twin Cities concerts.
“The Replacements have a song for every mood you can be in,” said Quinn. “This show was great. I really enjoyed all the crowd interaction.”
Zach DeBoer, 25, of Sioux Falls, S.D., said his dream concert was the Replacements and opening act the Hold Steady, so he didn’t hesitate to pay $120 for a $50 ticket and drop about $700 for the weekend for him and his girlfriend.
“I never thought I’d see the Replacements live,” he said. “They’re playing like they never stopped playing together. There’s a 12-year-old next to me who knows every word. Honestly, this is a dream come true. I can safely crown this as the best concert I’ve ever seen.”
That kid wasn’t the youngest person at the show. David Savage, 13 months, was in the last row of the stadium, headphones on, in a stroller. His father, Brad Savage, a programmer at a Virginia radio station, drove two days with his wife and son to see the ‘Mats in Minnesota, where Savage used to live. Color him impressed. “The people were singing along on ‘Androgynous,’” he said. “That’s Minnesota for you.”
Peter Jesperson, the guy who first recognized the ‘Mats potential, jetted in from Los Angeles for the hometown reunion. As their first manager and later the producer of reissues packages of their seven albums (the biggest seller was 400,000 copies), he senses the “fever pitch” for this reunion in Minneapolis, even though the band is just originals Westerberg and Stinson and newly hired replacements, guitarist Dave Minehan and drummer Josh Freese.
Jesperson, now an executive at New West Records, cited the excitement generated this week by the Replacements appearance on “The Tonight Show” and this string of reunion concerts that began 13 months ago. All the other gigs have been part of big festivals. The hometown show is a Replacements concert, easily their biggest payday ever, Jesperson figures.
“They came together for a humanitarian reasons,” he said, referring to making charity records to help former Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap, who suffered a stroke in 2012 and has been in and out of the hospital.
“To me, this is a great feeling of vindication. I was thinking in 1980 that this is a band people will be writing books about and they’ll leave a huge stamp on music history — and lots of people laughed at me. Yeah, I was right on this one. But this is really all theirs. It’s great vindication for them as well after all these years. They are in top form. They are older, wiser and Paul’s sober. This may be the biggest event in the history of the band.”
But it was still in a minor-league baseball stadium, which somehow seemed apropos for a band that never quite made it in the major leagues. Said Jesperson: “Fitting irony.”