On July 4th, 1991, the Replacements capped off their set at Chicago's Grant Park with a winking, typically iconoclastic stunt: The members exited the stage one by one, leaving their roadies to pick up their instruments and finish the gig. "I remember feeling kinda sad," Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson tells Rolling Stone in an exclusive interview. "But at the same time it felt like an 800-pound gorilla had been lifted off my back."
For the great American garage band of the 1980s, it was the end of a 12-year-run full of brilliant albums (most notably 1984's ragged masterpiece, Let It Be), dashed expectations and heroically messed-up shows. But on Wednesday evening, the Replacements made good on one of rock's most prayed-for reunions, announcing they'll play three dates of the Riot Fest, starting August 25th in Toronto. "The universe seems to be trying to put us together to do our thing," Stinson says. "It was just the timing and the aligning of the planets."
It took a while for the planets to align: The band had been fending off reunion offers for years, and had to overcome frontman Paul Westerberg's reluctance to tour again. (Stinson's longtime gig with Guns N' Roses was also likely a factor.) But Westerberg and Stinson came together last fall to record the covers EP Songs for Slim, a benefit for Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap, who faced mounting medical bills after suffering a stroke in February 2012. They hit the studio again in May, this time to record new material. "We had a really good time working together and reconnecting," Stinson says. "Coincidentally, this is when the [festival] offer happened to be out there."
There's no indication the tour will continue beyond these three dates, and all Stinson will say on the subject of further shows is "we'll see." The band hasn't revealed who will play with Westerberg and Stinson, either, though we know it won't be original drummer Chris Mars. He left the band in 1990 and is now a visual artist with no apparent interest in returning to his old gig. "We didn't speak to Chris because we knew the answer before we even asked – he'd say 'no,'" says Stinson. "We're currently working out who's gonna fill what shoes." (Also unclear: Whether or not there will be a new 'Mats album. "We're not sure if we're gonna do anything with any of [the new recordings]," Stinson says.)
Though mega-festivals like Coachella had been offering what Stinson called "silly money," the Replacements opted for the relatively under-the-radar Riot Fest. "We started talking to them in December," festival organizer Mike Petryshyn says. "As soon as it [was confirmed] we were in shock and awe. I had a little tear come to my eye. We're kind of numb right now." As for the money: "What we're paying them is pretty on par with other headliners," Petryshyn says. "It was pretty much what we can afford, and there was no back-and-forth with it."
Westerberg has played very few concerts since 2005, and his last release was the 2009 EP PW & the Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys. When Rolling Stone spoke with him in October, he seemed to be edging toward a Replacements reunion. "I've had offers to play with them, or without them, that are becoming stupidly ridiculous," he said. "To the point where someone thinks I'm playing hard to get. And it's not like I'm wealthy. I'm getting by. It was never about making money. If we can have a lot of fun, and make a lot of people happy, and make a lot of money – which means making a lot of other people money – then OK, I guess that's spiritually and economically sound."
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