Monday, August 26, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Replacements Reunion Riot Fest 2013

Yesterday I went to Toronto to see the Replacements play their first gig in 22 years.  Damn that’s a long time.  The Eagles have gotten back together.  The Pixies got back together.  Hell, even the Backstreet Boys got back together.  Why did the Replacements wait so friggin' long?  Can we blame Axl Rose on this?  Would they even be any good?  Would it be worth the trip?  The show was at a festival gig called Riot Fest that was held at Fort Pitt Park in downtown Toronto.  It was the standard festival prototype with a bunch of cool bands, food trucks, slacker corporate sponsorship, and Hipster Nation out in force. Let’s discuss a few of these elements for a moment…

There were about 10,000 people at this festival.  About 9184 of them were wearing Wayfarer sunglasses.  9998 of them had tattoos, most of them absolutely horrible.  Here’s a quick tip for portly ladies…  If you have calves the size of an NFL fullback, a tattoo on the back of them that draws even more attention is probably not in your best interests long term. Another quick tip…  At this point some of the Tattoo Pioneers have reached an age where the skin is not quite as elastic as it was 20+ years ago when they got the ink.  No one wants to look at a saggy mermaid or angel on your shoulder.  That blotch of color on your arm makes you look like a Korean War vet at the VFW Hall, not Johnny Thunders.  Time to put away the sleeveless shirts and tops and consider other clothing options.

An interesting look that is sweeping the Canadian Hipster Community is what I refer to as “The Gay Sailor” look.  Men are wearing mustaches and haircuts with the hair parted to the side with product like Dapper Dan.  Throw in a pair of long legged shorts (almost Capri's) and striped horizontal t-shirts and everyone looks like a homosexual sailor that just hopped off Daddy’s sloop in the Hamptons in 1926.  There must have been 6000 dudes that looked like Matt Damon in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”.  It was unsettling.

As mentioned earlier, the food options were via Food Trucks parked to the side of the area.  Food trucks have become very trendy, as any food that has been prepared in the cramped space of a truck surely must be better than food prepared in an actual kitchen.  This is the myth that has made yesterday’s “Roach Coach” today’s cooler than thou eatery.  However, just like restaurants, some food trucks are good while others kinda suck.  The real issue is when 10,000 people want to eat, it’s hard to feed them out of a tiny window of a truck.  The lines for the trucks were mammoth, so I stuck to the beer tent.  This had its’ own set of issues.

While I understand the need for corporate sponsors to help make an event of this magnitude happen, it is very disappointing to arrive at a fenced in area on a hot summer day and discover your options are cans of Pabst poured into plastic cups or a shot of Jager.  Making matters worse, each can of Pabst was $7.  I know I risk sounding like some sort of heretic, but let’s be honest.  The emperor has no clothes.  Pabst sucks, it’s always sucked, and at $7 a can it really really sucks.  Let me also be forthcoming about my personal weaknesses.  I’m not going to go to a show in the hot summer sun and not have a few beers.  I drank the fucking Pabst.  

Toronto traffic and a lengthy border cross made for a late arrival.  Apparently Canada has become so pissed off by the inefficiency of our never ending War on Terror that they have decided to make sure it takes an hour to get into their country as well.  It’s a real pain in the ass despite crossing at the “no wait” bridge that was actually an hour.  If I crossed at the Peace Bridge I would probably still be there, slumped over the steering wheel holding my passport.  Some Gay Sailor would have probably sifted through my pockets for the tickets to the show.  It became all about patience, which I have little of.  Still, after all the hassle, it turned out the show was worth it.  It was an awesome bill. 

I missed Dinosaur Jr, a band that has continued to put out really good albums since reuniting a few years back.  For my money their last two indie records are better than the two they made at the end of their major label run in the 90s.  I had hoped to see them as I missed their last two local shows.  No dice though.  I did see Jay Mascis standing on the side of the stage later.  Does that count as seeing Dinosaur Jr? 

The timing was perfect though to see Rocket From the Crypt.  Now I have been resistant for years to go "in" on Rocket From the Crypt.  I never really understood the horn thing, and the only CD I had was that last one they did for the major.  I should have known better as all my German pals love these guys.  The Germans are serious about their rock, so if a pack of Germans says someone is awesome, they probably are awesome.  Indeed, Rocket From the Crypt is awesome.  I am so sorry I am this late to the party.  I vow to remedy my ways.

The Weakerthans found themselves in the unenviable position of having to go on after Rocket From the Crypt.  I like this band, but their sorta nerdy bookish power pop punk was not really what I was in the mood for at this point.  Even they said from the stage, “We are honored and sort of bewildered as to why we are here.”  They did what they did well, and I’m glad I finally saw them play.  I always loved that “I Hate Winnipeg” song.

Next up were Iggy and the Stooges.  I am 100% a fan of Iggy.  That guy knows how to put on a show, and is the cockroach of rock n roll.  He cannot be killed.  He has hung around and hung around, and nestled into the Godfather of Punk role perfectly.  I think he was considered the Old Man of punk in 1982.  There he was, shirtless and lean as always, banging out a muscular “Search and Destroy” with James Williamson on guitar and Mike Watt on bass.  They played most of the “big” Stooges songs, and some real deep cuts like “Cock In My Pocket” and “I Got A Right”.  I can’t recall the last time I saw a 66 year old man dive off a giant festival sized stage into a crowd, but that fucking guy will kill himself to put on a show.  The Stooges sounded great, like a powerful machine.  I never thought I’d see that band, or that they would sound that good.

Then came the main event.  I have outlined previously how big the Replacements were to me.  They have been on heavy rotation for me since I discovered them in the 80s.  The fear of these reunion type shows is that the band will suck, and they will rob you of your good memories of them by planting new shitty images in your head in their place.  I once had the chance to meet Westerburg, but purposely walked the other direction.  I was so worried that he might turn out to be an asshole, and then I could never listen to his records the same way again.  I love this band and I think they are everything rock and roll can and should be about.

The Replacements set was better than I could have hoped.  First of all, Tommy and Paul look great.  They have stayed trim and looked like they belonged on a stage in front of 10,000 rapt fans.  They were having fun and smiled their way through the set playing songs that the crowd clearly loved as much as I did.  Paul’s voice sounded like he had just popped back in from 1992.  There they were, doing their thing.  They were the same old Replacements as Paul flubbed lines on “I Will Dare” and “Androgynous” while of course perfectly nailing a Sham 69 cover.  They played early stuff, late stuff, covers, and pretty much what you wanted to hear.  OK, no “Waitress In The Sky” or “Unsatisfied”, but I’m not complaining.  The band was locked in, and you can tell how much the guitar player had studied those Replacements records to faithfully nail those solos.  What a dream gig for that guy.  Who wouldn’t want to blast out “Alex Chilton” or “Left of the Dial” with Westerberg and Tommy?  I almost wept when they played “I Can’t Hardly Wait”.

Hopefully there will be more to come from The Replacements and the remaining two shows of Riot Fest in Chicago and Denver aren’t it.  I don’t know if Paul Westerberg has any more songs like those left in him.  Frankly, he got more than his share to begin with…  I would love to hear what happens if they tried though.  I don’t want to be too greedy.  Even if these guys never play together again, I was so glad that they decided to do it last night, and I was lucky enough to be there.  Food trucks and border crossings be damned.  It was worth it.            


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