I once found myself sitting on the lawn of the Gorge Amphitheater in the summer of 2010 at The Sasquatch Music Festival, discussing an oft-asked question among me and my cohorts. The question being, “what musical artists do you absolutely need to see before you die?” I’m sure Springsteen was thrown into the mix as usual (why don’t you ever come to Seattle, Bruce!?) as were a few other artists who I can’t recall specifically.
Then I remember at some point I threw out The Replacements as a band who I’d have to see if it was ever possible, but then scoffed at the idea, saying “they’ll probably never get back together”. Then I’m sure a few moments passed before I caught sight of a headband-wearing dumbass chugging an 18-dollar can of PBR, and thought, “man, music festivals are stupid”. So perhaps it was only fitting that what finally brought me back to my first festival since 2010 was seeing The Replacements play this year’s Bumbershoot in lieu of a reunion that was a long time coming.
I was going to say that my love of The Replacements has been well-documented, but I’m realizing that it really hasn’t. Apart from a C.A.T. for Let It Be I did a few years back and an ‘80s album-themed podcast episode, I haven’t talked about The Replacements all that much on Mildly Pleased. And perhaps that’s because the period of my life in which The Replacements played the most important role predates this blog, as The ‘Mats were about as integral to my teenage years as any other pop culture institution.
But beyond just my high school years, The Replacements were a band that continued to stick with me, as I recall the first thing I ever wrote in film school (in which I would eventually major in screenwriting) was a treatment for a movie about a Replacements-like band reuniting after years of building up a massive cult audience. And even now, when I’m in need of music that will put me in a state of ease, or just help me feel a little bit better about the world, I more often than not turn to one of those Replacements records.
So I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I skip over my other Bumbershoot experiences, since most of it revolved around seeing the almighty ‘Mats in the flesh, while everything else was secondary. So on the day of Bumbershoot, after sitting through a set of stoner rock/metal band Red Fang (I will say they rocked pretty hard), I made it my priority to get over to Memorial Stadium about an hour before The Replacements took the stage.
Waiting there for me was a modest bunch of middle-aged hipster dads, who I’m sure had been waiting 20 years to see this – even if the spirit of The Replacements had perhaps faded a bit towards the background of their lives, as they grew up, had kids, and chained themselves to safe day-jobs. And then off on the other side of the stadium there was a whole other stage where some band was playing (I think Kins was their name?), yet guys like me were more inclined to just sit and wait for The Replacements to start than walk a few dozen feet and actually watch these wimps play.
So as we neared the band’s 6 o’clock start time, unsurprisingly, a lot of people filed in to see this most legendary of underdog rock bands. What I didn’t anticipate was the familiar golden-throated vocal patterns that I recognized carrying on an uncharacteristically loose conversation behind me. I then realized that this familiar voice was coming from none other than Seattle DJ Kevin Cole, whose afternoon show on KEXP I’d been listening to all week, in which he had been gradually hyping up this oncoming Replacements performance. From what I could tell from the random comments he occasionally relayed to his wife who was standing next to me, he seemed to dig the performance. So it was nice to get that unexpected bit of closure.
As for the performance itself, it started out raucously, as Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg (sporting a Batman football jersey for some reason), along with the two stand-ins for the deceased Bob Stinson and the retired Chris Mars took the stage. The band launched into “Favorite Thing” with that signature Replacements scrappiness, and I couldn’t help but let the biggest, dumbest smile imaginable come over me. Because the fact of the matter is, I never thought I’d actually get to hear these songs live. These songs have meant so much to me, and gotten me through so many moments of longing and self-doubt and frustration. And I’m sure every grey-haired, once disenfranchised teen in the stadium couldn’t help but have this same feeling as Westerberg impishly danced around the stage like it was still 1983.
Thankfully Paul and Tommy never let any of this inherent nostalgia seep its way into these songs, which were always just as self-deprecating as they were honest and heartfelt. Between songs, the two-of-them would often trade foulmouthed banter with each other, as if they were in on some joke that they only wanted to let half of the audience in on. This kind of ambivalence towards the audience was something that I’m sure some people in the crowd were frustrated by, but for me felt completely true to the “we know you love us, but we’re gonna make you regret it” nature of The Replacements. Also, Westerberg briefly showed his true allegiance to his fans at one point, as he ran out for the band’s encore, hopped down into the pit between the audience and the stage, and proceeded to sing “Left Of The Dial” on their level.
At one point, I heard one audience member mutter in regards to the performance that “it just goes to show how good you can sound when you’re not drunk”. This definitely spoke to this surprisingly tight iteration of The Replacements, which was held firmly in place by guitarist Dave Minhan and drummer Josh Freese. However, there was still that shaggy dog quality that manifested itself in Westerberg’s occasional forgetting of his own lyrics (something he still did back in the ‘80s), along with a couple of the band’s signature half-baked covers (in this case “Maybellene” and “I Want You Back”). Also, one moment of the night that made me laugh really hard was when the band was in the middle of “Androgynous” (one of The Replacements’ tenderest ballads), and Paul accidentally dropped his microphone with the kind of comedic timing that was utterly impeccable.
But apart from “Androgynous” and an almost half-embarrassed rendition of “Waitress In The Sky”, the band mostly stuck to its more rocking numbers. This made for a uniformly bracing and exhilarating experience, even if the crowd didn’t quite rise to the energy of the band (I know, Gen Xers. Your doctor said you can’t rock as hard any more. But come on!) And if I had to name any one song as the highlight of the evening, it’d probably have to be “Bastards Of Young”, one of The Replacements’ many signature tunes.
While listening to a thousand people sing along to the words “We are the sons of no one / Bastards of young / The daughters and the sons”, it became quite apparent why this band has been so important to me and so many others over the years. The Replacements have always embodied the misfits and the outcasts of the world, while never daring to conform easily to any one scene or type of categorization. And despite the fact that a lot of The Replacements’ music embodies youthful rebellion, it was the band’s persistence to push their music forward, while always being nothing other than themselves that still inspires me. So despite it technically only being one half of The Replacements up onstage Sunday night, the warts-and-all spirit of The ‘Mats felt as alive as ever, and I really couldn’t have asked for anything more than that.