The Replacements at the Top of Their Game at New York City Reunion Stop
Historically speaking, the Replacements are not a consistent live band. In 1984, at their peak, they played a two-hour set at a Minneapolis all-girls high school, screaming "F--- school, f--- school, f--- my school" for a reportedly crazed crowd of two thousand; in 1986, they delivered a toasted, off-key performance of 'Kiss Me on the Bus' on Saturday Night Live that got them banned from the show forever; and in 1991, they checked in for an anti-climactic final concert in Chicago, heavy on late-period material and light on original band members.
The Replacements’ reunion stop at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens last night (Sept. 20) was the dignified coda -- if that's even what it is -- that the band deserves. One week after their acclaimed homecoming performance at St. Paul, Minn.'s Midway Stadium -- which included a foreshadowing take on Jimmy Reed's blues 'Going to New York' -- the band was sharp, thanks in no small part to journeyman drummer Josh Freese, who brought new-found stability to the Replacements' groove. Tommy Stinson was a comic, reassuring presence on stage -- at one point relating a story about how he fell on his face on the way to the gig, and how his nose has "always been crooked and bulbous"; Dave Minehan of Boston's the Neighborhoods filled in energetically, and more than competently, for the late, great Bob Stinson.
But it was Paul Westerberg's voice that always truly signified the band's brand, a hybrid of Little Richard soul and Joe Strummer sneer, and nothing was more exciting than hearing how well-preserved it is. It's heartening to note that Westerberg's squawk, forever on the border of collapse and rapture, is still well-suited for the eviscerating of flight attendants ("Paid my fare, don't wanna complain / You get to me, you're always outta champagne!") and heartfelt defenses of cross-dressing friends ("Kewpie dolls and urine stalls / Will be laughed a t/ The way you're laughed at now"). Every rock singer should aspire to be so growly-yet-controlled in pseudo-retirement, and to retain such mastery over their songs.
The set was thankfully heavy on the 'Mats' best music, including the hits (a fist-pumping 'Bastards of Young'; a dazzling 'Can't Hardly Wait'), the adrenaline-crazy early stuff (the trash-blues 'White and Lazy') and the overlooked pop gems of the later years (the powerful 'Merry Go Round'; the delicate 'I'll Be You'). A cover of Chuck Berry's 'Maybellene,' and a few bars of the Jackson 5's 'I Want You Back,' reminded fans that if the Replacements could be condensed to any musical idea, it would be classic American rock and roll with a punk rock sneer.
"Thank Ed Sullivan!" Westerberg shouted. Indeed.
Opening sets by Deer Tick and the Hold Steady underscored this theme -- particularly as the Hold Steady trudged through a set that culled as much from the Replacements' swinging rockabilly-punk as it did from canon Bruce Springsteen anthems. Mid-set, Hold Steady singer Craig Finn believably proclaimed the early Replacements record 'Hootenanny' as one of his favorites of all time.
As for whether the current run of shows is intended to be the grand finale the Replacements always deserved -- Westerberg and Stinson have done no interviews and haven't discussed the reunion (though Westerberg did, in 2012, tell Rolling Stone magazine the he and Stinson "still rock like murder") -- we'll take their silence as permission to offer our own interpretation. 'Alex Chilton,' the second to the last song the band played, is essentially a song about loving music -- about hearing a song and saying, plainly, "I'm in love with that song." To leave such great songs unsung would be a tragedy.
The Replacements closed the set with 'Unsatisfied' from 1984's 'Let It Be,' a heaving lament about getting everything you want and coming up short. As the guitars and Freese's thunderous beat carried the song away, we couldn't be happier to hear Westerberg repeating: "I'm so unsatisfied."
Check out the full setlist, and some of our favorite shots from the show via Instagram -- including our own quick video of 'Takin' a Ride' -- below:
The Replacements -- Setlist, Sept. 19, 2014
'Takin' a Ride'
'I'm in Trouble'
'Don't Ask Why'
'I'll Be You'
'Waitress in the Sky'
'Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out'
'Take Me Down to the Hospital'
'I Want You Back (Jackson 5 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'
'Maybellene (Chuck Berry cover)'
'Merry Go Round'
'All Shook Down'
'Love You in the Fall'
'Can't Hardly Wait'
'Bastards of Young'
'White and Lazy'
'Left of the Dial'