“What time is it,” Paul Westerberg asked, not checking his watch between songs. His reconvened band the Replacements was nearing the end of its scruffy, irreverent and triumphant-enough first concert in 22 years. So, time was a relative concept.
“How young are you ,” he had asked earlier, on the bouncing, jangling I Will Dare , “How old am I ?” Again, an answerless question on a day when age didn’t matter and college-rock generations of different vintages were back in school, all on the same field, literally and figuratively.
On the second day of a two-day travelling garage-rock exposition, a crowd saw the raw-powered seventies anarchists Iggy and the Stooges, the blurry eighties-era noisemakers Dinosaur Jr, the swinging gas-guzzlers Rocket From the Crypt (who were anything but mummified) and what was left of Westerberg’s punky alt-rock pioneers. Somewhere in between all that chaotic freedom was the Weakerthans, the literate Winnipeg folk-rock quartet led by the newly beardy John K. Samson. He sang about not knowing how to sing and barely being able to play, but that that [we] never seem to mind. That was the spirit, the engine – the flag raised.
The Replacements offered a souped-up Maybellene, a Chuck Berry car song about a Cadillac that went about a hundred and four and girl that was even harder to keep up with: “You done started back doin’ the things you used to do.” What time was it? It was time for the rock and the roll. What a dumb question.
The Replacements – currently aligned as bassist Tommy Stinson and Westerberg, with Josh Freese on drums and Dave Minehan on guitar – not only had to live up to its own legacy, but would need to outdo a roaring penultimate set by James (Iggy) Osterberg and his bruisers. Iggy, once tagged by Bowie as the “world’s forgotten boy,” is now 66-years-old but still performs with abandon and missing a shirt. He is without sag; skin-tight is a figure of speech to everyone but him.
A mix of band classics (I Wanna Be Your Dog and Search and Destroy), Iggy’s solo material (The Passenger) and material from the new Stooges album Ready to Die came from the Michigan proto-punks. A sinewy set ended with Iggy dropping the mic on the stage – a gauntlet thrown down. Being ready to die is one thing. Playing second fiddle is another, for a wriggling, barking dynamo whose heart is “full of napalm” and whose belly is just as on fire.
As for the hellion headliners, whose fans fondly know them as the ‘Mats, Sunday marked their first concert since an appearance at Chicago’s Grant Park on July 4, 1991. Their live reunion was prefaced by Songs for Slim, a five-song studio EP in benefit of guitarist Slim Dunlap, recently paralyzed by a stroke. They played fast and fun, smart and a little sloppy, opening with Takin’ a Ride, which made sense. The slashing rocker – Kiss without the makeup – was the first song on their 1981 debut, Sorry, Ma Forgot to Take Out the Trash.
That album came with cheeky liner notes – “this could have come close to rock-a-billy if we had taken the time” – and even though Westerberg made a joke about needing to rehearse his between-song banter, the chatter was just right. “If you like that,” he quipped after Favorite Thing , we’ve got another one exactly like it. Hangin’ Downtown sounded close to rock-a-billy.
An unflagging 21-song main set included a campus-rock anthem (Left of the Dial) and a passage of Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone From the Sun (which was used as an outro to quiet down the clomp of Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out).
For a two-song encore, the Minnesotan Westerberg inexplicably wore a Montreal Canadians jersey – George Laraque’s number 17, specifically. An unpleasant version of Everything’s Coming Up Roses (which was sung much better by Ethel Merman) set up the finale, I.O.U. That song, we were told, was inspired by Iggy Pop, who in the 1980s signed an autograph to Westerberg with the brazen words “IOU nothing.” The same holds true for the Replacements, whose reunion was neither necessary nor obligatory. The band paid in full a long time ago.
“Sorry it’s taken us so long,” Westerberg had said when the Replacements first took the stage 75 minutes earlier. “For 25 years we’ve been having a wardrobe debate – it was unresolved.” But they looked fine and sounded better. Some things never grow old or out of fashion. They are, dare we say, irreplaceable.
Riot Fest (with the Replacements and others) plays Chicago (Sept. 13 to 15) and Denver (Sept. 21 and 22).