The Replacements can add another milestone to their impressive, improbable legacy.
The reunited alt-rock pioneers’ show at Forest Hills Stadium Friday night was more than a concert. It was like an “It Gets Better” video come to life. It was like the triumphant ending to a John Hughes movie three decades in the making, the one where the lovable losers get everything they deserve.
Playing their first New York concert since they broke up in 1991, The Replacements’ singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson — along with replacement Replacements guitarist Dave Minehan and drummer Josh Freese — fulfilled all the promise of their groundbreaking albums, especially “Tim,” which celebrates its 30th anniversary next year. After all the years of wildly uneven concerts, missed opportunities and self-destructive tendencies, the beloved ‘Mats played like the rock stars they were always meant to be, backed by a devoted crowd that made the band’s alternative-rock anthems sound like rallying cries.
In an age when musical choice is overwhelming on YouTube, Spotify, Pandora and countless other options and information overload is all too real, the influential sway of the Replacements seems hard to fathom. When they came of age in the ’80s, they were building the blueprint for an alternative to the Reagan era, the counter-argument to the “Greed is good” crowd.
“We are the sons of no one,”** they chanted in “Bastards of Young,” which stomped even harder in its current incarnation. When they wistfully declared, “Children by the millions wait for Alex Chilton,” they not only introduced an entire generation to the Big Star star, but also tapped into the feeling of “I’m in love with that song!” Their thunderous “Left of the Dial” paid tribute to an entire underground culture, centered on the non-commercial radio stations on the left of the dial and the music they played.
Sure, the Replacements’ argument wasn’t always clear in their days of drinking and drugging, but it certainly has crystallized now. Westerberg, looking flamboyant as ever in his floral-patterned blazer and bright red capri pants, is no longer a reluctant frontman, sounding strong and holding attention during the rockers as well as the quiet numbers. (He delivered a gorgeous version of “All Shook Down” on his knees — dedicated to the band’s former guitarist Slim Dunlap, who was paralyzed by a severe stroke in 2012.)
Stinson, who has developed into quite the performer in his years leading his own bands and playing in Guns N’ Roses, also seemed better than ever. And though Minehan and Freese will never replace the original guitarist Bob Stinson, Tommy Stinson’s brother who died in 1995, and drummer Chris Mars, they certainly add plenty to the band. Freese’s precise, but flashy style, propelled the more hardcore numbers, including a thrashing version of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene,” while Minehan looked genuinely thrilled to rock and spin through “Left of the Dial” as a Replacement.
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The Replacements’ long-reaching legacy was evident in the openers’ sets, as The Hold Steady and Deer Tick represented the countless bands launched in the wake of “Tim.”
Despite all that accomplishment, The ‘Mats still maintain an air of unpredictability. Westerberg tried to sing part of “Nowhere Is My Home” with a cigarette in his mouth, which didn’t quite work out. And Stinson talked of how he fell flat on his face on the way to the show, worrying Amtrak workers and emergency technicians that that he might have broken his nose and would be unsteady from all the blood loss.
“I always look pale,” he explained.
It’s still not clear where this Replacements reunion will take them beyond the current tour. However, with shows like their Forest Hills triumph, one stop should definitely be induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I can’t hardly wait.
SETLIST: Favorite Thing / Takin’ A Ride / I’m in Trouble / Don’t Ask Why / I’ll Be You / Valentine / Waitress in the Sky / Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out / Take Me Down to the Hospital / I Want You Back / Color Me Impressed / Nowhere Is My Home / If Only You Were Lonely / Achin’ To Be / Kiss Me On The Bus / Androgynous / I Will Dare / Love You Till Friday / Maybellene / Merry Go Round / All Shook Down / Swingin’ Party / Love You in the Fall / Can’t Hardly Wait / Bastards of Young / White and Lazy / Left of the Dial / Alex Chilton // ENCORE: Unsatisfied
**Reader Eric Fitzgerald of Brooklyn points out that the actual lyric is supposed to be "Wait on the sons of no one," a line Westerberg says he took from The Bible. It's even written that way in the handwritten lyrics of the song in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. However, in a 2010 Spin article, Westerberg says even he was singing "We are the sons of no one" at times. "I wrote it and I forgot it. A writer named Bob Mehr had to point it out to me." Now, the song has a completely different meaning, doesn't it?