I just saw The Replacements play in Denver. Actually, that isn't exactly true. I saw Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg play 23 Replacements songs with two other dudes in a dusty hole 80 miles east of Denver. And it was great.
Q: "Wait just a second, I read Hitless Wonder and I'm wondering how you and Mike "Biggie" McDermott ending up seeing this show in Denver when you could have caught it in Chicago the week before? Did you guys hit the Powerball or did Biggie just prefer driving the van an extra 1200 miles for the hell of it?"
Speaking for myself, it doesn't take an accountant to figure: coffee sold + music royalties - real life expenses = way less $ than it takes to fly me to Denver for a rock show. But that is exactly what happened.
As Mats' guitarist Slim Dunlap use to preach to me at a very impressionable age, "God* takes care of his writers and musicians. He may not get you a new car, but he gives you little gifts every once in awhile to let you know that he appreciates you. The key is to notice those gifts and not get hung up on what everybody else is getting. If a pile of cash is important to you, work at a bank. Songwriters get different gifts."
So about a month before this show, I get a call out of nowhere from a longtime Watershed friend who happens to live in the Denver area that I haven't heard from for a while. "Hey, you and Biggie need to get your asses out here to see the Replacements show. It wouldn't be the same without you. It's on me. I got your tickets and just booked your flight. See you there." (click)
Now that is an offer you can't refuse. And a pretty obvious gift from whomever doles out that sort of thing.
Speaking of Slim, sadly, his illness is also the reason Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson ended up wearing pink skirts performing in a dust bowl for Biggie and myself. Slim had a serious stroke awhile back and a number of musicians released some music to help raise money for his health expenses. (Unfortunately, health care is not a gift typically given to musicians.) Anyway, Paul and Tommy reunited to release a single as The Replacements and I can only assume had enough fun to want to play a couple of gigs in the meantime. They paired up with Paul's original solo band compadres David Minehan (The Neighborhoods) on guitar and Josh Freese (everybody!) on drums to round out the line-up. The show in "Denver" was the third and final of a three show run as part of Riotfest. The previous two shows were in Chicago and Toronto.
The reason I write "Denver" is because although the flyers said "Denver" the actual show was 80 miles east of Denver at May Farms, which, to the naked eye, looked to be a dirt farm. It would be like advertising a show in Columbus while setting up the stage in Tipp City.
I'll write another post about the rest of the bands at the festival soon, but let's stick to The 'Mats for now. I was curious about the crowd make-up for the event, because even as an over-the-hill rocker myself, I would be on the young side for a typical Replacements fan. I had never even heard of them until Joe Oestreich showed up at the Watershed house on 65 E. Patterson with a copy of "Don't Tell A Soul" and said, "Somebody said we should check this new band out". We listened, weren't impressed, and if I recall correctly even went so far as to sell the record back. (Probably got a good trade on the latest Dokken or something.)
But then two things happened that changed my life forever. I turned twenty-one, so I could now drink beer whenever I wanted and I purchased a used copy of The Replacements "Pleased to Meet Me" on cassette tape. The opening of "I.O.U." tore open my sheltered suburban soul and suddenly a world appeared where I could hang out at bars in the afternoon if I felt like it. Like Slim once said, "When Tom Petty stands behind a microphone everybody feels safe. When Paul Westerberg stands behind a mic, it feels dangerous."
The Replacements gave me the guts to push the envelope a little bit. Not to the point of real trouble, but just enough to quit being such a pussy. You know, if you happen to stay up for a few days and make out with a stranger every once in awhile, the world isn't going to end. Embrace a little danger. And Paul's lyrics were like discovering a long-lost brother I never knew about. A really smart, older, crazy brother. The songs of Ray Davies, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Westerberg shaped me, for better or worse, into the person I am today. And I am not talking about musicality, I am talking about my actual personality.
So yes, I was quite excited to see Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson perform together again as I stood about 30 feet straight back from center-stage with a mouth full of dust and my ears still ringing from Iggy and The Stooges.
I won't bore you with a review of the show as actual music writers do a very good job of that already. I will say that they looked and sounded great. The crowd was about 7,000 strong and knew every word. I was probably in the middle, age-wise. The younger kids are hip these days, so quite a few hung around to see what all the fuss was about. The ones I saw seemed to be digging it.
I suppose some Albini types could knock the band for going on a nostalgia trip but I don't think that is fair in this case. I mean, they hadn't played in 22 years so it's not like they are out milking it, and, more important, these songs deserve to be played. To paraphrase Pete Townsend - "Write your own fucking songs and then you can choose not to play them. I'll do what I want with mine."
Speaking of songs, the set-list is as follows: Takin' a Ride, I'm in Trouble, Favorite Thing, Shiftless When Idle, Hangin' Downtown, Jingle Jangle Jingle (Tex Ritter cover), Color Me Impressed, Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out, Kiss Me On the Bus, Achin' to Be, Androgynous, I Will Dare, Maybelline (Chuck Berry), Merry Go Round, Wake Up, Borstal Breakout (Sham 69 ) , Little Mascara, Left of the Dial, Alex Chilton, I Don't Know, Hold My Life, Can't Hardly Wait, Bastards of Young. Encore: Hootenanny
Having never seen The Replacements before, just Paul solo, it is always interesting to notice what songs the band seems to really enjoy playing. Maybe they aren't the best songs to listen to, but just fun songs for the band to play, dig? I would throw "Hangin' Downtown," "Tommy Get His Tonsils Out," and "I Don't Know" in that category. The version of "Androgynous," sans keyboard was stunning. I was mildly disappointed they blew off show-closer "I.O.U" after an inspired mess of "Hootenanny," but really, it was all I could have asked for and more. Okay, got to run. I hope to write another essay soon about the under-appreciated Tommy Stinson and some thoughts on the other bands at Riot Fest, but don't hold your breath. I've got a kid to raise, a coffee shop to run, songs to write and The Wire to watch. Oh, and football & baseball. I'm swamped.
* God, as in some mysterious higher power. Not the one made famous from the Bible.
Colin Gawel writes stuff sometimes for Pencilstorm . Learn more about him and the other contributors by clicking here.
Below are my favorite three Youtube clips of the show.