How do you get the last word on the Replacements’ first hometown show in 23 years? Wait a month to write it. It didn’t help that I read so many other great reviews of their show at Midway Stadium (especially Zach McCormick’s piece for the Minnesota City Pages and Caryn Rose’s Jukebox Graduate blog). It’s already been said how great the band was that night. This is more of a love letter to the people of Minneapolis for letting me watch them love their band. Seems fitting to finally finish it the night of their last scheduled reunion show…so far.
I did not travel 2000 miles to see the Replacements. That would be ridiculous. I flew from San Diego to Minneapolis to stand inside of a stadium with 13,000 of their fans. There’s just something about a homecoming show. It’s the reason I drove to Los Angeles to see Redd Kross play their first show in ten years. It’s why I flew up to see the last Seattle Posies show in 1998 before they ruined my bragging rights and started playing again just a few years later. It’s why I went to Georgia to see Neutral Milk Hotel last year. It’s why Drive Like Jehu’s recent reunion show on a beautiful San Diego night was one of the most special things this town has ever been a part of.
Last year, I saw the Replacements at the Denver Riot Fest. Like so many fans, I had mixed feelings about their reunion, even veering into purist rally cry territory (“Well, it’s not REALLY them.”). Just before they hit the stage, I felt old, tired and silly for coming all that way to see them. Then, they ran on in dresses and orange cowboy hats and all of our heads exploded. Thanks to the damn internet, I knew almost every song that they were going to play, but, without being a drunken coverfest shit-show, it was full of hilarious banter and unexpected songs. “I think we need to play one we haven’t played,” singer Paul Westerberg announced at one point. “…in fact, one we don’t know. ‘Shiftless When Idle’…it’s in F sharp.” and off they went, playing a song they hadn’t played in 30 years….and haven’t done again since.
I wanted my reaction to be as pure as possible when seeing them for the first time in 23 years but was too damn curious. I ended up watching endless videos from their first two reunion shows in Toronto and Canada. I thought I couldn’t get excited about watching them play the songs I already knew were on the setlist. I was wrong. To see it in 3-D at full volume was indescribable. I felt elated that I could still get excited by the rock and the roll but knew I’d never have that full-on feeling again with them. When I heard rumors of a string of Los Angeles shows, I wasn’t remotely tempted to brave the traffic. Whispers of a San Diego show barely raised my eyebrow. Go to Coachella? AT MY AGE?! Then, they announced that, after a year on the festival circuit, they would finally play a REAL headlining show…in their hometown…in a stadium that was about to be demolished. A parody of the old Minnesota Twins logo accompanied the announcement. Check please.
Seeing a band in their hometown is one thing but the tale of this band has always involved the land that spawned them: the people, the cold, the trees, the lakes, the basements, the skyways. I was born in Chicago but hadn’t stepped foot in the midwest in almost 25 years. I’d never been to Minnesota. I love old baseball stadiums. Built in 1982? Ok, old-ish. Close enough. When Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Hot Club of Cowtown(!) did a tour of minor league baseball stadiums in 2004, I kicked myself for not flying out for a show. That tour stopped at Midway Stadium, the home of Hamline University’s baseball team and the St Paul Saints, a pro team not affiliated with Major League Baseball that is co-owned by Bill Murray, who took tickets at the last homegame just a few weeks earlier. What better place to see the band that so many critics and fans thought deserved to be in the big leagues? My birthday was five days after the show. I had to go.
I was prepared to go it alone but I asked a few fellow fans if they were interested and found at least one was already planning on making the trek. That was good enough for me. When tickets went onsale, I got in quick and got my reservation for one. I hopped on Facebook to see other fans as excited as myself but saw just as many people complaining that they’d been shut out. People who were from Minneapolis that had been huge fans long before I was. Hundreds of excited locals posting online eased my Jewish guilt. I couldn’t wait to stand among thousands of fellow freaks and observe a 35 year love/hate affair of a band and its hometown.
I had plenty to distract me in the months leading up to the show but got just a tad excited when it was announced that the band would be playing the Tonight Show the same night that Keith Richards would also be a guest. Typical me, I started thinking of all of the connections between the band, Keef and 30 Rock and stayed up all night putting together a piece about it. After drummer Josh Freese and Westerberg manager Darren Hill linked to what I’d written on Facebook, thousands of people read it, our Facebook page finally broke the 1000 “like” mark of (less-pathetic) respectability and, once again, the band was on the brain something fierce. Not having a real TV to watch the show, I ended up near my parents’ house and tried to recreate 1986, the last time the band had performed in the NBC building. Sadly, I could barely finish half of my unhealthy Carl’s Jr dinner, Baskin-Robbins was out of Mint Chocolate Chip and Keith didn’t play with the band as many had hoped. Luckily, they looked and sounded incredible and it was great to see Paul drop behind Jimmy Fallon, even if Tommy didn’t take the bait and push him over. The hallway photo from behind that the band posted made my year.
Before I knew it, I was buying my typically late airfare/hotel combo and packing up my Skyway suitcase, a gift I’d had for God knows how long before I noticed the manufacturer’s name. I saw someone online say that they’d talked to no less than ten people at the Austin airport who were flying up for the show but had no such luck hearing fans singing “Baggage claim is this way…” to themselves like I kept doing in San Diego and at my layover in Phoenix. Like many travelling that day, I picked up the brand new Rolling Stone which had a great four-page article on the band. I’m coming, Minnesota.
Upon arrival, I was so distracted that everything in the Minneapolis airport says Skyway on it that I rode the train two stops in the wrong direction. As much as I wanted to see the city, it was already dark and time to head to the We Can’t Hardly Wait benefit for guitarist Slim Dunlap. I wasn’t expecting a ticker-tape parade but sometimes it felt like no one in town was in on it. Just ask anyone driving a cab, heading to the Mall of Americas or wearing a Vikings jersey. I went from unsuccessfully running into fellow fans in three different states to cabbing straight to the ultimate Replacements Booster Club’s national convention. To raise funds for Slim, who’s still recovering from a recent stroke, friends, family and filmmakers put together a night of music, raffling and outtakes from Color Me Obsessed, the 2011 documentary about people who like this band too much (totally not me). I thought one fan gathering in a packed stadium was enough for one trip but…it’s for Slim. I RSVP’d and even brought a Westerberg promo cd to donate for the raffle.
I grinned as I pulled up to the eighty year old Parkway Theater and saw Color Me Obsessed on the marquee. My people. Here was a theater of folks I could probably talk all night with…but I didn’t know any of them. Recent instant online friend Dave James from Costa Mesa’s Factory Records was there but I’d never actually met him. I just knew he had a habit of screaming for his favorite Replacements song when he saw the band. So, as soon as Slim’s kids, Emily and Louie, were done singing the heartbreaking Slimbob classic “Two By Two”, I yelled “CUSTOMER!” at the top of my lungs from the back of the theater. After what seemed like a long silence, I saw some movement in the darkness of the back row and heard someone quietly say, “Adam?”
Dave and his local friend Shaun seemed like great folks, but they were taking off early, which left me to watch the documentary screening by myself. Director Gorman Bechard was one of the organizers of the event and cut together a special “drunken” edit of the film, full of unseen outtakes (now available online). Many fans unknowingly first saw the film thinking it would be a band bio, instead of a music-less homage to their fans. I knew what I was getting into but, even as a fan of their fans, wasn’t as knocked out as I’d hoped, watching it on my computer. There were some great moments but seeing a shorter, ragged version on the big screen in a theater full of insiders that were either in the movie or really knew the tale was a completely different…and awesome experience. I’d once driven a few hours to see the LA premiere of the band documentary Love Story and had that same feeling of camaraderie watching it with the most appreciative crowd imaginable.
After the movie, it was back to the awkward situation of being surrounded by people I’d probably love talking to but was suffering from a rare bout of shyness. Looking for eye contact or an in led to a brief talk with a couple because one of them was wearing a friends’ band shirt (thanks, Dragons!). After a few lonely laps around the theater, I finally recognized Slim’s wife, Chrissie Dunlap. It was absolutely surreal to have her introducing me to people and mentioning that I was good friends with Michael Buchmiller, who’d designed the genius Songs For Slim logo, which was everywhere that weekend. They had it draped over the bass drum while Slim’s friends played his songs that night plus I saw necklaces and dozens of shirts at the Midway show. So strange to see it two time zones away from San Diego but not any stranger than having Mexican food as my first Minneapolis meal next door at Pepito’s. Damn, if it wasn’t amazing.
Friday night’s frost warning was pretty disappointing. It was sunny with a nice breeze the whole time I was there. I was definitley not getting the full Minneapolis weather experience but was saving money not having to buy a cap and gloves. The next morning, I slept in and went to my hotel’s second floor for a touristy photo of my first skyway. I incorrectly had thought it was a nickname for their train system like “The El” all these years. I got a quick lunch around the corner then started walking to Electric Fetus Records, an amazing record store south of downtown. Instead, I accidentally went north and ended up getting to see the famed First Avenue club, the Twins’ home Target Field and an unreal amount of clubs, theaters, shops, lofts and restaurants. The streets were practically deserted but this was one of the cleanest, most beautiful downtowns I’d ever seen.
I successfully avoided spending money on records at Electric Fetus, despite the huge parking lot sale, but spent plenty on other random kitsch there. The girl who rang me up recommended the shakes at Bad Waitress and ten blocks later, I was ruining my dinner appetite with a caramel/coffee malt(!). When Dave called to tell me that he was record shopping at Roadrunner Records, on the same street, I continued heading south, stopping at some great vintage stores, eying pretty suburbs and wondering if I should just hop on a bus. By the end, I’d walked seven miles and still had to stand in a baseball stadium for a few hours. No matter. I was really seeing the city and loving it. My college friend Christie, who lives nearby in Stillwater, swung by with her friend Shannon and whisked me up to Hola Arepa for yucca fries before heading out to St Paul.
The sun was setting on St Paul as we arrived at Midway Stadium to a breathtaking view. I couldn’t help but blurt out, “LOOK AT ALL THE WHITE PEOPLE!” The tailgate scene was buzzing like Heavy Metal Parking Lot but with much better music. Normally, I frown upon listening to the band you’re about to see but being surrounded by this many cars and stereos blaring the Replacements was the exact scene I flew in for. So much flannel. So much beer. Such long portapotty lines. So many dudes peeing against the fence. The girls left me to nerd out with some of the locals, but, though it’s very nice to meet you, Mr Guy Who Pressed Record On The Cops From Stink!, I’ve got a show to catch.
A dead phone meant I wouldn’t be able to meet up with anyone. I’d be sharing this experience alone….with thousands. I didn’t get a chance to really enjoy the stadium view inside because I entered to find 10,000 people rocking out to local faves the Hold Steady in the blackness. It was a sight I hadn’t really considered. Wouldn’t EVERYONE want to be as close as me? I slowly weaved my way through the masses, knowing that as soon as the Mats hit the stage, it would be complete chaos. I barely remember the few Hold Steady songs I saw. I’d seen them and Lucero before and hadn’t been over or underwhelmed by either of them. In a year full of so many great choices for their reunion shows (from bandmates to setlists to wardrobe to unique venues), getting a few younger bands that they influenced to open their hometown show was disappointingly normal. I wanted The Time more than anyone else (I know, could you imagine?) but I would’ve taken a GnR tribute or a blues band of seniors or….anything truly left field, so to speak.
I got within a couple of hundred feet and I would’ve been an asshole to try and get closer, so I made nice with the folks surrounding me. The Mayor of St Paul coming out to officially declare it Replacements Day was a fun gesture but having “Surfin’ Bird” by the Minneapolis born Trashmen blaring when the lights went down was exactly the kind of grin-inducing wink to their hometown that I was looking for. When the band came bounding on in matching plaid Mr Turk suits, it was absolute bedlam. But, unlike every other huge concert I’ve ever been to, 1000 jerks didn’t use the opportunity to elbow past. All of my new friends remained within earshot as we all screamed our heads off to “Favorite Thing” (BAM), “Taking A Ride” (BAM!) and “I’m In Trouble” (BAM!!). It was so amazing that I almost didn’t notice that it took more than a few songs to turn up Dave Minehan’s redhot guitarin’ so we could hear it. Whatever doubts I had about not being able to enjoy seeing them play these songs again one year later was out the window thanks to the energy of Josh Freese’s slammin’ drums and thousands of people witnessing it for the first time all around me.
Once things settled down a little, I was painfully aware of my new best friend, directly to my left. I knew that oversized grin. I completely understood why he was so excited to share this moment with everyone around him (especially since his girlfriend seemed to care more about the Hold Steady). I’d crossed many state lines for that feeling. But there was no denying that in his eagerness to bond and show off how well he knew all the words, he was turning to sing almost every line right into my ear….and BADLY. I couldn’t break his heart by telling him to stop, so in slow-motion cinematic style, I let other people creep between us. I saw a hint of sadness as he looked over to see me fading into the crowd (“Noooooooooooo!”) but I had to let him go to enjoy myself.
The nods to their hometown were mostly left unsaid. When Paul muttered “Sorry we took so long” early in the set, Tommy countered “No, you ain’t!” After they played “Take Me To The Hospital”, with an unreal advertisement for a local hospital looming in rightfield, Paul mentioned that Slim was back in the hospital and absolutely deflated the crowd. It was nice of him to say “We wish he was here” and immediately play a bit of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” but a sentimental speech would’ve been…awkward. As much as we all would’ve loved nods to angels Bob Stinson and Steve Foley, not to mention longtime drummer Chris Mars, who lives in town, we all knew it probably wasn’t gonna happen. Still, the whole concert seemed to be a big thank you to their birthplace, whether they’d admit to it or not. It’s all in the songs, anyways.
As predicted, without festival schedules to deal with, the band was ready to play almost everything they’d been doing for the past year. Of the forty or so songs that they’d probably rehearsed in the past year, they played all but twelve of them (“White and Lazy”, “I.O.U.”, “Hangin Downtown”, “Wake Up”, “Little Mascara”, “Psychopharmacology”, “Hold My Life”, “Customer”, “Message to the Boys”, “Another Girl, Another Planet”, “Judy Is A Punk” & “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” but really, who’s counting?). Like before, I really didn’t care what they played as long as they dished out the usual spontanaity. Not surprisingly, they served up a few tunes that they hadn’t played in a very, very long time.
First, they brought out longtime local blues harmonica player Tony Glover for a fun run-through of Jimmy Reed’s “Going To New York”, foreshadowing their upcoming show the following weekend in the Big Apple. True to form, they didn’t play it for the New Yorkers, nor did they cover “Judy Is A Punk” which they played in Georgia earlier this year (despite the Ramones hailing from Forest Hills, where the show was). They also resurrected their very first b-side, the countrified “If Only You Were Lonely” and Don’t Tell A Soul‘s “I Won’t”, which started with Tommy’s only lead vocal turn. It confirmed earlier microphone shenanigans when he went to sing and his mic was off. Several times in the set, Paul went over to join Tommy on his mic and it was inaudible. Holy mute button. It sounds like it was coming through the monitors, so hopefully all the official cameras and recording gear got the goods.
The set rolled on and on until they were doing the longest reunion set yet. About 25 songs in(!), they played their favorite Sham 69 cover (“Borstal Breakout”), the beautiful “Swingin’ Party” (Slim’s favorite) and a Westerberg solo tune (“Love You In The Fall”) in a row and started to lose the people around me a bit. It was time to break out the Big Four ™. Four songs that were about to get the stadium anthem treatment that they’d so richly deserved all of these years. They’d done “Can’t Hardly Wait”, “Bastards Of Young”, “Left Of The Dial” and “Alex Chilton” at all twelve of their previous reunions shows. Well, of course they skipped “Left of the Dial” in Boston but, you know, it’s not a big college town. When Paul kicked into “Can’t Hardly Wait”, the second wind that whipped through that stadium was unbelievable. The place EXPLODED. Only they could take such a simple guitar riff, play it 3000 times in a row and come up with something incredible.
The end was near, so they were either going to go out like they’d been doing all year or let it fall apart for giggles. I’d already seen how great it was for them to goof it up for their encore in Denver, so I was rooting for something ridiculous to go with a chugging “Bastards of Young”, followed by “I Don’t Know”. When the crew was setting up just before they started, a roadie brought out an acoustic guitar and I caught myself nerding out loud about it. That meant we’d be hearing “Skyway” or “Here Comes A Regular”…or both. About an hour and a half later, when Paul came out by himself for an encore, it was going to be good either way. It was “Skyway”. No introduction. No acknowledgement that the town’s weather and glass walkways inspired it. It was for Minneapolis. We all knew it.
That would’ve been plenty, but the rest of the band came back out wearing St Paul Saints baseball jerseys. Paul pretended to refuse, referencing other acts who’d played at Midway and probably hadn’t worn them (REM & Bob Dylan). This was a man who recently wore a Montreal Canadiens jersey onstage in Toronto so for him to relent and put on the hometown colors was a swell gesture. They knocked “Left Of The Dial” and “Alex Chilton” out of the park, so to speak and exited again. At that point, they’d played 31 songs. 31 well-played, rehearsed songs. To some, it was like the band owed Minneapolis a show like this for all the times they’d watched them play 31 drunken covers. They had always prided themselves on not doing what they were supposed to do but here they are in their fifties giving the people what they wanted.
Ironically, the only song left on their setlist that night was “I.O.U.” and, like they did in Denver, they shunned that song to do something unforgettable. Paul came out again by himself with just a 12-string electric guitar and a dangling cigarette. He started picking out a melody that I thought might’ve been a fitting “When The Saints Go Marching In” but then he went into those unmistakable chords I’d learned just last year for our own Slim benefit in San Diego. Slicing Up Eyeballs and Stereogum, two of the biggest indierock music sites on the web, both reported the Replacements playing “Unsatisfied” for the first time in 23 years as their headline news. The band rarely played it on their last tour in 1991 and Westerberg has done it even less often since they broke up. I can understand why. It’s plodding and repetitive and….it’s our themesong.
(recently uploaded multi-camera vid cut from Youtube videos)
What an ending. Tommy put down his bass and waited for Paul to head offstage to give him the biggest hug you’re ever gonna see. Then they both walked off, arm in arm, not even looking at the crowd. After all these years, they’re still not gonna let on that they care about getting it right. We’re just lucky we got to see it one more time or, for many, the first time. it almost makes me want to see them again, in case they ever play “Here Comes A Regular” or “Answering Machine” or “Within Your Reach” or “Talent Show” or “Never Mind” or “Sixteen Blue” or “Kids Don’t Follow” or “The Ledge”, not that I just looked up the recent poll by Minneapolis radio station the Current to see which of the top 30 they haven’t played yet because, seriously, who does that?
Thousands headed for the exits but many stayed behind to breathe it in, exchange knowing looks, steal grass from the outfield as a keepsake or randomly run into old west coast highschool classmates(!). In the afterglow, the crowd parted and I saw my new friend and fellow San Diegan, Howard. He was the hero of the Slim benefit from the night before because he’d come all the way from California without a ticket and deservingly won one in a raffle. We hugged and laughed and he told me how now he just HAD to get to New York by the following weekend to see them one more time. All around us, people who had not yet witnessed the reunion excitedly talked about how it couldn’t have been more perfect. I grinned along, happy to witness the band giving the town a helluva homecoming dance, filled with nods to their old stomping grounds without being overly sappy ‘cos that’s not what we want from this band.
That town. I couldn’t get enough, so I got up early the next morning, walked across the street and took a guided city bus tour. I was happy not to take the fanboy route and find the Let It Be house and other band-related sites until I saw artist Kevin Cannon’s amazing map that someone could’ve used to make a few bucks taking fans around town that weekend. I lucked out and got hilarious, retired newscaster J.B. Eckert as the host and he was a walking Wikipedia of the Twin-Cities. Everywhere we went, it was beautiful lakes, huge theaters, revitalized downtown construction, endless tree lines and historical buildings of all kinds.
For lunch, I tried the infamous Jucy Lucy burger at Matt’s Bar. Apparently, there’s no “i” in melted cheese goodness and no Mats on the jukebox, despite the namesake name (seriously?). I spent the rest of the afternoon south of downtown seeing old friends and meeting new ones, just to make it even harder for myself to leave. Perhaps most surprisng was that seeing the Flaming Lips perform 1993’s Transmissions From the Satellite Heart for the first time at the legendary First Avenue wasn’t anti-climactic after such an epic previous night. Funny what a little glitter and the most appreciative crowd I’ve ever seen will do.
I got what I came for. I wanted to see a city embrace its long-time heroes. Where else could I have stood in a STADIUM with so many other people who felt that way about those songs? Where else would they be on the cover of every weekly magazine and all over the papers? Where else does a 12 year old working a fashion outfit app on an iPad ask, “Dad, do you think Paul Westerberg would wear this?!” It was bizarro world and the weather was nice to boot.
Pleased to meet you, Minneapolis.
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Click on any of the pictures to see larger versions or more by these amazin’ photographers. Every time I thought this thing was done, I’d find another amazing set of pictures I wanted you to see. Per usual, they’re all credited and linked wherever possible. If you want a link, credit or photograph changed or removed, just let us know.