"Sorry we took so long," Paul Westerberg quipped during the Replacements' headline set yesterday at Riot Fest in Toronto, where the band played live for the first time in 22 years. "We've been having a wardrobe debate – it was unresolved."
Nearly 10,000 people gathered at the historic Fort York grounds to see the always-hoped-for, never-expected reunion of Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson – joined by Josh Freese on drums and Dave Minehan on guitar – for their first concert since a Fourth of July gig in 1991 at Grant Park in Chicago. (The band has two more Riot Fest performances scheduled: September 15th in Chicago and September 21st in Denver.)
The Replacements came on after a rousing, hard-to-top set by Iggy and the Stooges, commanding the crowd's attention as fans rushed in from all angles. The seminal Eighties college-rockers opened with "Takin' a Ride," the first song on their first album, Sorry, Ma Forgot to Take Out the Trash, followed by "I'm in Trouble" from the same LP. The band showed its charmingly ragged side during a 23-song, 75-minute set, which included occasional little fuck-ups and false-starts. "Now I'll play the song that I started last time," Westerberg said before "Favorite Thing." After "Hangin' Downtown," the singer said, "If you like that, we've got another song exactly fuckin' like it."
Westerberg was chatty throughout the show, looking down at the front row at one point and asking, "How long have you been here? Eight [a.m.]? Early day. Good stuff." After "Color Me Impressed," "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" and "Kiss Me on the Bus," he asked "Any requests? Should we go with 'Androgynous?' Yeah? No piano on it; it's gonna be stiff." When he messed up the words, the crowd sang them back. Two songs later, on "I Will Dare," it happened again. "You know the next line? I don't." It was funny, not sloppy, and rock & roll. The band, notorious for drunken performances back in the day, played it straight, but with humor and ease and professionalism.
The latter half of the set included a couple of covers – Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" and Sham 69's "Borstal Breakout" – along with "Alex Chilton" and "Swingin' Party," which Westerberg said was a "special request from our pal Slim back home. He wanted us to play it." Westerberg and Stinson first came back together last year to record an EP, Songs for Slim, to raise money for the band's former guitarist, who suffered a massive stroke in 2012.
As the night wound down, the 'Mats kicked into "Can't Hardly Wait" from 1987's Pleased to Meet Me. It took mere seconds for the crowd to go nuts, jumping up and down to the song that later became the theme song for the 1998 high school comedy flick of the same name. "We're running out of time," Westerberg said at 9:50 p.m., with the 10 o'clock curfew looming. "We've got maybe one more song." They chose "Bastards of Young," then quickly returned for an encore that featured "Everything's Coming Up Roses," a Broadway song they recorded for Songs for Slim. The Replacements finished with "I.O.U," a song inspired by an autograph, "IOU nothing," that Iggy Pop gave to Westerberg in the early Eighties.
It was a fitting song to end with – and not just because the Stooges were also on the Riot Fest bill, but because the Replacements owed us nothing and gave us everything we had hoped a reunion would be after two decades.
The Replacements' set list
"Takin' a Ride"
"I'm in Trouble "
"Favorite Thing "
"Color Me Impressed "
"Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out "
"Kiss Me on the Bus "
"Achin' to Be"
"I Will Dare "
"Love You 'Til Friday "
"Merry Go Round "
"Wake Up "
"Little Mascara "
"Left of the Dial "
"Alex Chilton "
"Can't Hardly Wait "
"Bastards of Young"
"Everything Is Coming Up Roses"
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