Replacements tribute is tightest yet

The Tribute to the Replacements returned to First Avenue for a third year Friday, a Minneapolis celebration of the most Minneapolis band. True to the Replacements' always-unexpected form, Friday's five-hour marathon centered on the group's raw, scrappy and downright snotty 1981 debut album, "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash" -- but the music actually sounded more rehearsed and sincere than in previous years. Few could've expected songs like "I Bought a Headache" and "Shiftless When Idle" to be taken so seriously. Religiously, even.

Guitarists Ryan Smith (of the Melismatics) and Terry Eason -- who led the house band through the entire "Sorry Ma" album -- played the spitfire guitar parts better than Paul Westerberg and Bob Stinson ever did post-recording. Highlights among the rotating vocalist stints included: the kickoff tear through "Takin' a Ride" by punk vet Dale T. Nelson; Pink Mink singers Arzu Gokcen and Christy Hunt's sassy spiking of "Rattlesnake" and "Don't Ask Why," respectively, and Japhies singer Reed Wilkerson's stage-diving delivery of "Otto."

Only two songs had a bratty flair: a glammed-out Curtiss A screamed his way through "Johnny's Gonna Die," while Jimmy "Dude Weather" Gaines delivered "I Hate Music" as an Elvis impersonator.

A dozen other acts also played 'Mats sets. Some were straight-up and well-rehearsed, especially High on Stress' nailed-it hammering of "Color Me Impressed" and "Left of the Dial." Some were more playful and clever, including Martin Devaney's montage of Slim Dunlap songs (the guitarist who replaced the late Bob Stinson) and BNLX's fuzzed-out approach to "Merry Go Round" and "You Lose."

The yin-yang approach was especially prevalent when stomp-rockers the 4onthefloor sloppily, drunkenly raised "Hootenanny" and "Treatment Bound" on the main stage while, minutes later, Poverty Hash played the same songs next door at 7th Street Entry with a bluesy bend. Both approaches worked beautifully.

  • Chris Riemenschneider

Mason Jennings comes home

"It's great to be home." It would have sounded like a typical crowd-sweetener comment any other time of the year, but the line carried a little more weight Saturday at First Avenue when muttered by Mason Jennings, the first of many local music heavyweights to return to the club over the next month.

On Saturday, Jennings faced his own kind of balancing act, having a strong new record to promote but also eight previous albums adored by the sold-out, faithful crowd. Oldies like "Butterfly" and "Living in the Moment" went over like big radio hits, even though they were rarely played on the pre-Current 89.3 dial.

Still, many of the show's best moments came off the new, lovingly titled "Minnesota" album, starting with the piano-led openers "Bitter Heart" and "Raindrops on the Kitchen Floor." Jennings, 36, added to the glimmer of "Clutch" by explaining how he imagined what memories would surface on his deathbed ("the most important moments in my life were unplanned," he concluded). He then delivered "Hearts Stop Beating" as one of a half-dozen songs with opening band/tour partners the Pines -- a truly hearty pairing.

For most of the 105-minute set, Jennings performed with only one sideman, Jacob Hanson, of Halloween, Alaska. They alternated between instruments (including drums), a disjointed but charming style reminiscent of Neil Young's solo shows, even during the ultra-Dylanesque songs "Crown" and "Ain't No Friend of Mine." Jennings likened the freewheeling approach to the making of his recent, self-made, home-recorded albums. So it really was like he was playing at home.

  • Chris Riemenschneider

Start the 'Who is Bon Iver?' Grammy meme

Almost-homeboy Bon Iver was the big surprise when the Grammy nominations were announced Wednesday night. The pride of Eau Claire is a finalist for best new artist as well as record of the year and song of the year (for "Holocene"). His album, "Bon Iver," is also in the running for best alternative album. We guess the Grammy folks paid lots more attention after Bon Iver, a.k.a. Justin Vernon, recorded with Kanye West last year. Lest you think that Bon Iver will become the Arcade Fire of the 2012 Grammys, realize that he's competing with Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," in the song and record categories, and for best new artist he's vying with Nicki Minaj and the Band Perry as well as Skrillex and J. Cole.

  • Jon Bream

Food trucks go inside (not literally)

Food-truck season may be at its end, but Kitchen in the Market (920 E. Lake St., Mpls., www.kitcheninthemarket.com) in the Midtown Global Market is playing host to street vendors one day each month throughout the winter. First up? Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the Smack Shack (maker of wicked-good lobster rolls and other delicacies) and Foxy Falafel (awesome falafel) will be cooking up a storm. No trucks, however. "Most have already been winterized," said Kitchen in the Market co-owner Molly Herrmann. "Besides, we couldn't figure out a way to get them into the building."

  • Rick Nelson

Walker on the Web

Walker Art Center has streamlined its image in a redesigned website that debuts Friday at www.walkerart.org. Surprise! It looks like an online magazine. Top stories are called out, and the centerpiece is a rotating feature by a Walker staffer. In a preview edition, director Olga Viso beamed in a smart review of the recent Istanbul Biennial, which she thought too literal and colorless. Besides being a lot more accessible and interactive, the site has easy links to art stuff, local and international blogs, and auction info. "It's not just a redesign, it's a whole new overhaul" of the Walker's image, said press honcho Christopher James.

  • Mary Abbe