An event I had been waiting 22 years for finally took place at Riot Fest in Toronto last night as The Replacements took the stage for the first of three reunion shows.
The mood among the audience was one of relief when the band finally took the stage. Many among us were wondering whether it would actually happen or would they implode before even playing a note. But when Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson and their hired hands strode into position and opened with a joke about arguing about wardrobe, the cloud lifted and we knew we were going to see something special, no matter how ramshackle the set would get.
Opening with "Takin' a Ride", the group plowed through a set that spanned their entire career. Early works like "Color Me Impressed" and "Hanging Downtown" got a modern retouching, making them fit in much better next to "Kiss Me On the Bus", "Merry Go Round", and "Achin' To Be".
It's the Let It Be/Tim/Pleased To Meet Me tunes that got the biggest reaction. The band delivered a rambunctious (and slightly chilling) rendition of "Alex Chilton". My personal favorite, "Little Mascara", gave me goosebumps when I realized I was experiencing something I never dared believe would happen. "Can't Hardly Wait" provided one of the best sing-along moments of the evening.
Usually I'd think less of a band when the lead singer forgets the lyrics to their own songs. However, it seemed perfectly appropriate when Westerberg muffed the words to "Androgynous", "I Will Dare", and "Swingin' Party", the latter of which was dedicated to ailing guitarist Slim Dunlap. He even botched a verse of the anthemic "Bastards of Young", but few in the gleefully singing-along crowd seemed to care.
With any reunion like this, there are bound to be songs that don't get played, particularly with the time constraints of a festival. In this case "Here Comes a Regular" and "Answering Machine" were among the casualties. In the end, despite the absence of "Unsatisfied", the band's long-dedicated fans left happy (and relieved).
Slicing Up Eyeballs has some great live footage.
Riot Fest was not much of a riot for most of the day. That is until Iggy & The Stooges took the stage. They blasted through classics from their original three studio albums (including "Search & Destroy", "Raw Power" and a raucous "I Wanna Be Your Dog") and tossed in a couple new tracks for fun.
Iggy still has a remarkable energy for a 66 year-old performer. While the first slamming of the microphone stand probably drew more chuckles than gasps, his headfirst dive off the stage wiped away any sense that he was just putting on a sideshow.
The Weakerthans were out of place on the line-up, owing their presence most likely to the need for another Canadian act.
The other big reunion draw was San Diego rockers Rocket From The Crypt. Their brand of horn-laden punk rock got more asses moving than any other act on the day. A healthy dose of humourous stage banter really lightened up the atmosphere and got people through what could otherwise have been an early evening lull.
Reverb and distortion muted J. Mascis' vocals during Dinosaur Jr's set. It made one realize just how important they are to the overall sound. However, the guitar work was impeccable as always, especially with Lou Barlow's return. Barlow also makes for a perfect juxtaposition to Mascis in terms of stage presence, with the former being boisterous and the latter statuesque.
On paper, the shimmering California sound of Best Coast seemed like a mismatch for the festival. Musically though, the group held their own remarkably well. The set was marred by Bethany Cosentino's obvious ambivalence. She oozed disdain and it was clear that she really really didn't want to be there.
Toronto punk rockers The Flatliners were a pleasant surprise. They played melodic, fast-paced, and fun songs. They've got a new album coming out with a gig at The Horseshoe on September 19th. I highly recommend checking them out if you haven't already.
The screaming assault of Single Mothers really isn't my thing anymore, so it's hard to gauge whether they did it well or not, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.