with the Hold Steady and Lucero
Midway Stadium, St. Paul
Satuday, September 13, 2014
Paul Westerberg comes into the store where I work sometimes. He gets his shopping done, dips out quietly, and then walks his dog back home. Some of the cashiers don't even recognize him, but the first time I rang him up, I nearly had a heart attack. For most people in The 'Mats Generation, that's a pretty banal story. After all, good chunks of the crowd in attendance at last night's show were alive and active while this group was a truly local band. They probably have great stories about the time Bob seared a guitar-shaped hole in the wall of the 7th St. Entry wearing nothing more than a pink tutu, or when they spent a night at the CC Club shooting the shit and trading jukebox picks with Chris Mars.
But I'll have to make do with the somewhat awkward, professional exchange I was fortunate enough to have with the man who wrote "Unsatisfied." That's why this show meant so much to kids my age. We finally have a Replacements memory to call our own.
The 'Mats played their last local show in February of '91 when I was not quite six months old. As I grew up a rock 'n' roll fan in south Minneapolis, their absence seemed to intensify their legend. Friends, parents, and indulgent record store clerks all helped me pick up the gospel of this rowdy, raw, and brilliant band that led me through the youthful idealism of teenage punk and out of my overwhelming sixteen blues. My friends and I took on their Gen X anthem "Bastards of Young" as our own, and songs like "Raised in the City" defined the pride we felt growing up not so far down Lyndale from the house where they shot the cover for Let It Be. When Jim Walsh's oral history All Over but the Shouting came out, we devoured it, scouring the pages for details about our favorite band, as if historical research could somehow transport us back to the group's heyday.
So when I say that the sight of four goons in plaid suits smirking their way onstage in St. Paul was an emotional moment on the level of receiving my college diploma, you're just going to have to take my word for it. Our heroes transformed into vital flesh and blood for the first time in our own hometown, and it was just as messy and exceptional as we all hoped it would be.
While there was much discussion as to how the band would choose to open their first local gig in 23 years, they couldn't have picked a better number than "Favorite Thing." Shaking off the dust, Westy and Tommy belted the greatest 'Mats rocker that nobody remembers before tearing into a trio of early tunes that set a brisk pace for what would become a marathon performance. Before changing gears to "I'll Be You" and the smoky "Valentine," Westerberg ruefully muttered "Sorry it took us song," to which Tommy cracked an observant "No you ain't!"
With the crowd firmly in their hands, the band tossed out another fan favorite, "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out," before indulging in a bit of classic 'Mats tomfoolery, vamping the uptempo rocker into something resembling Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun." From the dregs of that jam emerged an especially ragged "Take Me Down to the Hospital," after which Westerberg finally acknowledged the missing presence onstage. "Slim is back in the hospital," he said, of fallen guitarist Slim Dunlap, losing the cocky grin for the first time all night. "We wanted him here."
Then, as they always seem to do, the 'Mats poked that profound moment full of holes with a surprisingly tight cover of Jackson 5's "I Want You Back." A beaming Tommy Stinson seemed very pleased with their ability to pull that off, declaring, "We worked all year on that one!" with ironic pride. Inviting local blues-harp legend Tony Glover to the stage for a version of Jimmy Reed's "Going to New York" seemed to be just a bit of a jab at folks who were expecting a higher-profile guest, but the simmering Chicago-blues number served as a great example of the strength and versatility of the current lineup. Drummer Josh Freese and guitarist Dave Minehan gave this lark as much attention as any of the band's bigger hits.
Westerberg's voice was strong throughout, showing all of the yearning tenderness it did when he recorded songs like "If Only You Were Lonely" and "Achin' to Be," albeit with a few more years on the odometer. "Kiss Me on the Bus" and "Androgynous" picked things back up, garnering hoots and cheers as Paul smooched Tommy on the former and stumbled over the words in the latter. We ate it all up. At this point, the 2014 Replacements were at the height of their powers, thoroughly locked in, shooting sparks with "I Will Dare" and "Love You 'Till Friday," which transitioned into Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" with practiced ease, even as the cackling Westy struggled to keep up his guitar solo.
"Merry Go Round" began with a nod to the band's family in the audience. "We've been omitting this one but somebody wanted to hear it," Westerberg mumbled, "Someone named Mary or something...." More fun was found with an overlooked rocker from the band's deep catalog: "I Won't," which transformed into a rollicking nod to British Oi band Sham 69's "Borstal Breakout." A taut, melodic take on "Love You in the Fall" started off the final leg of the band's first set, with Tommy showing his vocal chops on some sterling harmonies. The song's anthemic quality set the stage perfectly for my personal favorite two-song combo of the night.
"Can't Hardly Wait" and "Bastards of Young" were unforgettable. By this point, all four members were on fire, the stage lights were popping just right, and I totally lost all control of my body movements. My friends and I screamed along and hugged each other in disbelief. We didn't even care that they flipped us the finger by closing with "I Don't Know"; we were still riding high from the incredible space between Westerberg uttering "We ain't got no war to name us" and the massive explosion of guitar that followed. The 'Mats could have farted through a single, half-assed encore and I'd still probably rave to my grandkids about it.[page]
Thank goodness they didn't though. Westerberg returned, solo, sporting a 12-string to strum through a sweet version of "Skyway," before the rest of the band emerged, sporting honorary St. Paul Saints jerseys. After being goaded by Tommy to put his on, Paul cracked, "How many bands have done this? You think Bob Dylan put this fucker on? You think Michael fuckin' Stipe put this on? They are kind of cozy though!" The feel-good camaraderie of the moment between the four men onstage was palpable, and it was heartwarming to see a bit of un-self-conscious hometown pride when they donned those jerseys. That move certified that, despite the wait it took for us to get a Replacements reunion in the Twin Cities, they were always on the home team.
Closing their encore with a victory lap of "Alex Chilton" and the college-rock anthem "Left of the Dial," the band seemed satisfied with their evening and ready to call it quits. But they left something off, and a few plaintive cheers went up from the crowd, followed by more, before the howl for another song became overwhelming. Finally, the band caved, with Westerberg emerging solo once again, this time with a cigarette dangling from his lips as he strummed a few familiar chord changes as his group returned for one final hurrah. For my friends and I, the choice couldn't have been more perfect. "Unsatisfied" was a massive song for all of us, chronicling the boredom, suffocation, and ragged hope that took the place of teenage optimisim when we all opened the door to adulthood and discovered this special band. As the 'Mats finished, Paul and Tom walked off with a genuine, brotherly hug. How about that for a Replacements story?
So much has been written about this group's mercurial nature, about their soaring highs tempered with uninspiring lows, but last night the Replacements finally, after 23 years, gave the Twin Cities another local show that we could be proud of. For the salt-and-pepper old faithful in the crowd, it might have been just another great gig to add to the scrapbook, but for the kids of my generation, it was a real gift. One we'll remember for a long, long time.
Takin' a Ride
I'm in Trouble
Don't Ask Why
I'll Be You
Waitress in the Sky
Tommy Got His Tonsils Out + Third Stone from the Sun (Jimi Hendrix cover)
Take Me Down to the Hospital
I Want You Back (Jackson 5 cover)
Going to New York featuring Tony Glover (Jimmy Reed cover)
Color Me Impressed
Nowhere Is My Home
If Only You Were Lonely
Achin' to Be
Kiss Me on the Bus
I Will Dare
Love You Till Friday + Maybelline (Chuck Berry cover)
Merry Go Round
White and Lazy+ Borstal Breakout (Sham 69 cover)
Love You in the Fall
Can't Hardly Wait
Bastards of Young
I Don't Know + Buck Hill
Left of the Dial
Both the Hold Steady and Lucero seemed like natural choices to open for a band by whom they were so clearly inspired. An obviously enthralled Craig Finn babbled like the nerd we all knew he was deep down about the honor between songs: "I'm going to spare you the hysterics, but this is literally a dream come true." Although both bands played strong sets, packed full of crowd-pleasing hits, the horn-aided Lucero may have actually won the day, if only because they seemed slightly less cowed by the prospect of opening for their heroes. Frontman Ben Nichols helped break up the brisk, somewhat impersonal Hold Steady set by lending vocal duties to "Sequestered in Memphis," another natural fit considering it name checks his hometown.
Critic's Bias: Pretty much outlined in the piece, but I'm the kind of gen-Y Replacements super fan that does stupid stuff like buy bootleg vinyl comps of their material just to score an unreleased bonus track and a few interesting demo versions.
The Crowd: A nice mixture of original 'Mats fans and kids like me. The bemused expression on the older guy standing next to me while I screamed along to "Love you 'Till Friday" was priceless.
Random Notebook Dump: My notes for "Bastards of Young" and "Can't Hardly Wait": *unintelligible scribble* AHHHHHHHHHHHHOHMYGOD *unintelligible scribble*