Riot Fest Day 3 Recap: Replacements Tremendous at First U.S. Show In 22 Years [Exclusive Photos]
Of course it rained. At day three (Sept. 15) of Riot Fest Chicago, where the newly reunited Replacements played their second show -- and first in the U.S. -- since 1991, the gods were bound to muddy the grounds. Throughout their original run, the 'Mats were victims of cruel fate and terrible decisions, and before for these shoulda-been-contenders could make any kind of triumphant return, a few thousand people were going to have to ruin their shoes.
Amazingly, the steady rain that soaked Chicago for much of Sunday had stopped by the time the Replacements took the stage, and it didn't pick up again until just after their final song, 'IOU.' As singer Paul Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson and replacement Replacements Dave Minehan (lead guitar) and Josh Freese (drums) grinned, fumbled and generally blazed through 24 songs in 75 minutes, flipping rather deftly from early hardcore throwaways to poignant latter-day ballads and mid-tempo rockers, the skies were clear and black. If the gods didn't exactly smile on the 'Mats, they certainly smirked.
The day's weather -- and the crowd's overall mood -- had been improving since around 5PM, when Rocket From the Crypt, another band on the reunion circuit, played through the last vestiges of drizzle. Wiseacre singer John Reis was determined to chase away the clouds, and leading punk's brassiest show band through a terrific 45-minute set, he did his best to rally the soggy masses.
"We're not gonna let a little god pee-pee get us down," Reis said of the rain, intoning like a cheeseball '70s game-show host but meaning every word.
On such tunes as 'I'm Not Invisible' and 'Straight American Slave,' Rocket burned hot and bright, feeding the machine with a fusion fuel of Screaming Jay Hawkins humor, raw Stooges power and Vegas showmanship. Reis isn't afraid to preach the rock gospel or lead the crowd in a silly dance, and when he says he wants to hear applause and actually witness folks digging his band, it's not about validation. Reis knows RFTC are uncaged rock 'n' roll tigers with the sharpest teeth in the land. He just wants to make sure he's not facing a field of joyless zombies.
After the Replacements reunion, the big story of Riot Fest Chicago was the return of the Pixies, who've toured throughout the last decade but are just now adding to their storied legacy with new music. They've also got a new lineup, as Muffs singer and bassist Kim Shattuck has stepped in for departed founder Kim Deal, and while the latter was notably absent Sunday night, the Pixies are still very much their singular selves.
They've still got the versatility to cover the Fall, Neil Young and the Jesus and Mary Chain, as they did at various points in their pre-'Mats set, and among all of their requisite cosmic surf-thrash classics -- 'Debaser,' 'Wave of Mutilation,' 'Bone Matchine,' etc. -- they busted out a handful of new ones, including their eerie comeback single 'Bag Boy.'
Frontman Frank Black has never been the most mobile or energetic performer -- he's a lean-back-and-scream kind of guy -- and in that sense, Shattuck is a nice addition to the lineup. The Muffs were a fantastic and underrated group, but the Pixies are a definite promotion, and as she flopped her hair and bounced around in a baby doll dress and thigh highs, the very portrait of '90s indie chick, she appeared genuinely happy to be where she was.
The same went for the Replacements, as gum-snapping Westerberg and pose-striking Stinson flashed each other idiot grins from the outset. They came out firing, just as they did two weeks ago at Riot Fest Toronto, with 'Takin' a Ride' and 'I'm In Trouble,' adolescent ragers from their 1981 debut, 'Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash.' Next up was the more tuneful and sincere 'Favorite Thing,' from 1984's beloved 'Let It Be,' and just like that, arguably the most anticipated alt-rock reunion show ever staged on American soil was off and running.
Westerberg didn't mention that the original Replacements played their final show in Chicago, and he probably didn't need to. The significance was lost on no one, and while today's version of the band shares little in common with the one that finally fizzled out on July 4, 1991, it's for the best.
As anyone with even passing interest in the Replacements knows, these were self-sabotagers of the highest order, and had they not pissed away so many opportunities and just taken themselves a little more seriously, they might have been R.E.M. or Nirvana. But they didn't. Back in the day, they were unpredictable louts who'd be fall-down drunk one night and then bowl you over the next. There's something charming and exciting about that, but those who say they'd rather have back the old 'Mats are the same people that pine for New York City in the '70s. No one really misses getting mugged, and no one wants to see four dudes make asses of themselves in public -- at least not on a regular basis.
Today's 'Mats aren't exactly Stipe-like in their seriousness -- Westerberg's red clown pants and dress shirt made him look like Ronald McDonald on a job interview -- but their Riot Fest set was cohesive and well played, save for a few hiccups.
On 'Androgynous,' when Westerberg forgot the words to the second verse, it was a reminder of how frustrating this group could be. In the three decades since it's release, that tune's message of accepting alternate lifestyles has only become more relevant, and if any song demanded Westerberg sing with a straight face, 'Androgynous' was it.
More forgivable was the good-natured chiding he gave Minehan midway through 'Swinging Party,' as Westerberg apparently felt the sideman's guitar effects were a little too Cure-like.
Mostly, though, they held it together, covering Hank Williams, Chuck Berry and Sham 69 en route to a closing string of anthems that included 'Alex Chilton,' 'Can't Hardly Wait,' 'Bastards of Young' and 'Hold My Life.' They finished right on schedule, even after Westerberg had smashed the stage clock in a show of defiance. If the 'Mats are still fighters, they're choosing their battles and enjoying a long-overdue victory lap.
Maybe next weekend, when they do it all over again in Denver, the gods will have mercy on everyone's Chucks.
Check Out More Photos From Day 3 of Riot Fest Chicago