Bowing briefly and waving at the crowd, the Replacements kicked off the evening — the band’s first headlining gig since its 2012 reunion, and first hometown appearance in 23 years — with “Favorite Thing” from 1984’s Let It Be. It was the first of a 31-song set list spanning the legendary Minnesota band’s career.
While the Replacements had a reputation back in the day for unpredictable performances consisting of half-finished covers and drunken renditions of their own material, Saturday was all business in the best possible way, with the group delivering an absolutely stellar performance from start to finish, on a day officially proclaimed earlier in the evening by the Mayor of St. Paul as “Replacements Day.”
On this reunion outing, original members Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson have been accompanied by associates Josh Freese (the Vandals, Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle) and Dave Minehan (Westerberg solo, the Neighborhoods). They led the capacity crowd through ballads, covers, out-and-out rockers and raucous sing-a-longs.
“Tommy Got His Tonsils Out” would segue into Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun.” “Take Me Down to the Hospital” from 1983’s Hootenanny was followed by a brief cover of “I Want You Back” by the Jackson Five. “Love You Till Friday” (Sorry, Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash) careened into Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” — and then out of it, and then back into it once again.
True to their reputation, there were fits and songs that ended more abruptly than planned. At the end of “I’ll Be You,” Westerberg would note that they had sound-checked that song, only for Stinson to add, “We played every chord but that last one.” But these glitches were the exceptions rather than the rule, and the band was focused and determined for the majority of the performance.
While it wouldn’t be a Replacements show without a healthy dose of self-deprecation throughout, none of the joking could overshadow what was a phenomenal outing for the band — at home in front of friends, family and the fans who gave them their start. Westerberg was in excellent voice and his guitar work was strong and on point. Stinson was always a showman, even at age 13 during the band’s early years, and his time with Guns N’ Roses has only solidified his chops, and he would be the one affectionately giving Westerberg his cues all night.
Drumme Freese shares the same essence as original drummer Chris Mars (who declined to be part of the reunion outing), in that he is always solid and on, interpreting Mars but also getting the important bits — like the syncopation in “Kiss Me on the Bus” — just right. And guitarist Minehan is the perfect guitar foil for Westerberg, who can pick up anything the frontman throws at him, play every other note, lead or classic run, and hit the horn licks in “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Both Freese and Minehan play the material with care and respect, and every single member of the band had huge smiles on their faces all night.
The Replacements covered all their bases, from the early punk years with “Takin’ A Ride” and “I’m In Trouble” to gorgeous ballads of “Valentine” and acoustic (or quasi-acoustic) numbers like “If Only You Were Lonely” and “Androgynous.” The latter is always an excuse for Westerberg to forget the lyrics, or pretend to, in order to let the crowd fill in the difference. (“Boston was better,” Westerberg would tease the crowd Saturday, referencing the band’s appearance at the Boston Calling festival the previous weekend.)
While the crowd ate up every minute of the 100-minute show, the loudest reactions were for the band’s classic numbers towards the end of the set. “Can’t Hardly Wait” had the whole stadium singing along, while “Bastards of Young” increased the size of the mosh pit.
Other highlights earlier in the set included “Valentine,” an incendiary “Color Me Impressed,” a joyous and bouncy “I Will Dare” and a surprising “I Won’t,” led by Stinson. But there was some element of note in every number because of the band’s cohesion, focus and camaraderie. They came to play, but they also came to have fun doing it — together.
But there was still more to come as the Replacements left the stage at the end of the main set. Westerberg came back out alone first, accompanied by acoustic guitar, for a tour premiere of “Skyway,” an ode to that very Minneapolis innovation. He was then joined by the rest of the band for a plaintive performance of the group’s classic paean to the college radio stations that brought the Replacements their larger audience, “Left of the Dial,” followed by a tribute to one of their producers and musical heroes, “Alex Chilton.”
But Westerberg wasn’t quite finished yet after leaving the stage one more time, and returning with a 12-string electric guitar and a lit cigarette. He began to strum a rambling melody, and Stinson appeared back onstage, conferred briefly with his bandmate. The other band members joined them just as Westerberg hit the opening chords for “Unsatisfied,” from Let It Be, that angst-filled ode of loss and longing: “Look me in the eye/and tell me that I’m satisfied,” Westerberg sang to the edges of his voice, out into the St. Paul night. At the song’s end, he grabbed Stinson in a bear hug that looked like an expression of both relief and triumph. Arm in arm, the two bandmates left the stage for the final time.
Earlier in the evening, Memphis’ Lucero and Minneapolis neighbors the Hold Steady opened the show with strong sets notable for high energy and obvious fanboy-style affection. Ben Nichols of Lucero greeted the crowd, saying, “The Hold Steady and the Replacements? We’re just glad they let us join the party.”
Craig Finn of the Hold Steady would introduce his band by, saying, “I’ll spare you the hysterics but for a guy who grew up here this is literally a dream come true,” and after the band’s last song (“Southtown Girls”), announced with a large grin, clearly pleased to be able to say, for the first time in his career, “The Replacements are next.”