Replacements revived at Riot Fest Chicago

JAY BOLLER | Updated 9/16/2013

REVIEW: Minneapolis alt-rock legends provided knockout, punk-rock set Sunday during second of three reunion shows.

Band reunions are dicey. Variables -- lineup, motivation, execution -- make for unpredictable results, and Riot Fest (which writer Nathan Rabin described as "the Warped Tour for people with mortgages") was stacked to the gills with rejiggered legacy acts (Pixies, Violent Femmes, Blink 182, Sublime). Callous grab at nostalgia bucks? Maybe. But on Sunday at Riot Fest Chicago for the Replacements, playing just their second show in 22 years (following Riot Fest Toronto on Aug. 25), it certainly felt like something more.

A buzz of anticipation swirled throughout the older-skewing fans (compared to Blink 182 the night before, at least) in the post-rain darkness of Chicago's Humboldt Park - just miles from the location of the 'Mats seemingly final 1991 concert in Chicago's Grant Park. Tim and Cathy Mulfall, ages 50 and 51, made the pilgrimage for New York City to see the reunion, something Cathy "had a feeling" would eventually come to fruition. The couple never saw the Minneapolis alt-rock legends during their initial run, making this reunion date especially essential. They weren't likely disappointed.

Entering to jazzy organ notes, Replacements leader Paul Westerberg, always with the grin, charged into "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash"-era punk scorchers "Taking a Ride" and "I'm in Trouble." The group, led by original members Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson, with drummer Josh Freese and guitarist Dave Minehan filling out the lineup, sounded downright vital. These weren't 50-year-old dads dusting off cobwebs; this was the Minneapolis punk band circa 1981. 

"I'm outta tune, so let's do that one," Westerberg said before launching into the "Let It Be" gag track "Tommy Got His Tonsils Out", replete with "Rip! Rip!" chants from the crowd. Even during latter catalog cuts such as "Aching to Be" and "Merry Go Round" (the setlist yielded more to harder-charging older fare, anyway) the 'Mats came off as a scrappy, bite-packing rock group. Westerberg, drawing attention to the digital clock on stage, asked the crowd to keep track of how much time they had left, before saying "Fuck the clock!" and tossing it aside ("I'm an old hand, a music business professional," he smirked). During a bouncing take on "I Will Dare," the lines "How young are you? / How old am I?" took on added meaning. Westerberg, for his part, sounded outstanding at the mic, youthful and spirited on vocals. 

Hammering through tracks at a rapid-fire clip, it sounded as if the Replacements were trying to outdo FLAG on the intensity front. That is until the latter half of the set, which leaned heavily on fan favorites. "Left of the Dial" was met with audience high-fives; "Alex Chilton" drew out an ocean of fist-pumps. Westerberg chided Minehan during "Swingin' Party," demanding that his guitar tone "lose that Cure thing." He then momentarily forgot the words, as he did -- just like in Toronto -- the lyrics to a guitar-buoyed version of "Androgynous." (Minehan bore the brunt of Paul's cheeky wrath throughout the night, with the 'Mats leader mumbling to him the keys of various songs.) 

Westerberg bragged that he "could have [fellow Riot Fest-er] Bob Mould up here in an instant" during a chunky guitar rendition of pointless/misogynistic takedown track "Waitress in the Sky," which led into a storming "Can't Hardly Wait" and rousing "Bastards of Young." The amped-up set concluded with an encore-ish twofer of "Hold My Life" and "I.O.U.," an appropriate capper. Do the Replacements owe us anything? Not really. This reunion could have been a retirement-savings booster for Westerberg and Stinson, courtesy of the folks at Coachella. Instead, it felt like they wanted to be there and wanted to deliver, which they did in spades. 

Here's Sunday's setlist:

Takin A Ride / I’m In Trouble / My Favorite Thing / Hangin Downtown / I Don’t Know / Color Me Impressed (with Buck Hill outro snippot / Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out / Achin’ To Be / Androgynous (with Hey Good Lookin' Hank Williams outro snippit) / I Will Dare / Love You Till Friday/Maybelline / Merry Go Round / Wake Up / Borstal Breakout (Sham 69 cover) / Little Mascara / Left Of The Dial / Alex Chilton / Swinging Party / Kiss Me On The Bus / Waitress / Can’t Hardly Wait / Bastards Of Young   Encore-ish: / Hold My Life / I.O.U.