Concert Review: Pixies and The Replacements (Riot Fest 2013 Day 3 - Sunday, September 15 in Humboldt Park)

Concert Review: Pixies and The Replacements (Riot Fest 2013 Day 3 - Sunday, September 15 in Humboldt Park)

Sunday, on a rainy, muddy afternoon in Humboldt Park, Riot Fest 2013 came to it's Chicago conclusion following performances by Peter Hook, Mission of Burma, Against Me!, Bob Mould, Rocket From the Crypt, Brand New, Suicidal Tendencies, AFI, White Mystery, Pixies and a long awaited headlining set by newly reunited Minneapolis punks The Replacements... 

Following a controversial finish to the previous evening's festivities (and reports of injuries during an extremely crowded set by Blink-182), it was anyone's guess how rain and the resulting muddy conditions in Humboldt Park would effect highly anticipated performances by the revamped Pixies and reunited Replacements on Sunday.

Maybe it was the slightly older demographic in attendance to see artists that came to prominence in the eighties and perhaps rain all morning and afternoon kept the walk-up crowd to a minimum but as afternoon turned to evening Sunday in Humboldt Park, crowds were pretty mellow and, unlike on Saturday, headlining slots went off seemingly without a hitch.  The rain subsided during the Pixies and held off entirely during The Replacements and the crowd for both was calm and collected.

Hitting the road with a revamped lineup (original bassist Kim Deal left the band in June and is currently on tour with The Breeders), the Pixies now feature Kim Shattuck of The Muffs on bass and vocals.

During their seventy-five minute set Sunday night, with the exception of 1990's Bossanova, the band hit on just about every portion of their career - including four new songs (three from the new EP1, released only weeks ago, as well as the single "Bagboy").  But it was a pair of covers that got things started: The Fall's "Big New Prinz " and "Head On" by The Jesus and Mary Chain (who performed at Riot Fest in 2012).

Eschewing chat for music, the band turned in a polished set - the highlight of which early on, surprisingly, was the aforementioned "Bagboy." One of the set's most rocking moments, it features a driving, arena ready guitar riff and, while it's not her on the recorded version, Shattuck's backing vocals late in the song shined Sunday.

Having apparently completed work on their first new music in nearly ten years, the band seems poised to control their own destiny, releasing the first batch of new music, without warning, via their website, in the form of EP1 - a trend that seems likely to continue in lieu of the continually disappearing full album release.

Having started to resemble more of a nostalgia act than the influential, alternative titans of yore, there's no doubt this new music rejuvenates the band - though the big question was more about how fans would respond to the new lineup than it was the new music.

While Deal's vocals are incredibly unique, Shattuck's backing Sunday in her place on tracks like "Wave of Mutilation" and "Bone Machine," and especially on "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and "Here Comes Your Man," were more than serviceable, they were good (that said, since debuting the new lineup live, the band has avoided more Deal centered fare like "Gigantic").

All in all, Sunday's set left me curious to see just what the Pixies have left in the tank with more new music supposedly on the horizon.

But the real story Sunday was the year's most surprising reunion.  At a festival that practically boasts impossible reunions as its mission statement, this year Riot Fest pulled off just about the ultimate coup: Reuniting The Replacements.

The Replacements live at Riot Fest - Sunday, September 15, 2013 (Photo by Armando L. Sanchez, Chicago Tribune)

(Photo by Armando L. Sanchez, Chicago Tribune)

Performing their second of three reunion concerts (the band performed on August 25th at Riot Fest Toronto and performs again at Riot Fest Denver on September 21st), Sunday's set came just over twenty-three years after their last Chicago appearance - until last week, their last ever appearance - one that saw them infamously break up onstage about four miles east at Petrillo Bandshell in Grant Park, on the fourth of July at the 1991 Taste of Chicago).

"I've been having the time of my life!" exclaimed singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg midway through Sunday's set. Typically cynical and often mercurial, it can be hard to tell from his words alone just how serious he is sometimes - or if he is at all.  But if the music was any indication, Sunday night he was uncharacteristically serious - and maybe even, gasp, happy.

When it comes to a high profile reunion show like this, it can be difficult to transcend lofty fan expectations and turn in anything more than mere nostalgia.  But for eighty joyous and exciting minutes Sunday night, The Replacements (augmented now by drummer Josh Freese and guitarist Dave Minehan) throttled through a spectacular, high energy set that revealed every reason for every ounce of relevance the band has had for their hardcore, bordering on obsessed, fanbase all of these years

And it's also entirely worth noting that another reason Sunday's set was so good was that crowd - a mixture of older fans (who stood around me sharing stories from previous times they'd had the chance to catch the band live) and younger (who examined a 'Mats catalog together that probably preceded their birth as if they were classmates who majored in it).

Regardless of age, from all of the conversations I overheard over the course of two days in Humboldt Park and my experience watching my fellow concertgoers for eighty minutes Sunday night, every single person seemed to have two things in common:

  1. They never thought they'd have the chance to see The Replacements perform live (again)
  2. They knew every word to every song

Unlike any other concert crowd that I've been part of, this crowd shouted out loud literally every single word (Even at the three concerts I've seen by Paul McCartney, who performed some of the most lyrically memorable songs of all time, there was no comparison).

This was particularly impressive given the setlist - twenty-five songs covering virtually every facet of their career, including songs from all seven studio albums, deep cuts and several covers (the most notable cover being Hank Williams' "Hey Good Lookin" - a track they also hit on in 1991 at The Taste moments before breaking up).

Riot Fest 2013 poster - The Replacements

Sunday night, the band also performed three songs they didn't the week before in Toronto but avoided new material entirely (Westerberg initially reunited with bassist Tommy Stinson at the beginning of the year for a covers EP entitled Songs For Slim to benefit former Replacements guitar player Slim Dunlap who suffered a stroke in 2012).

Always known for their uneven live performances, it was hard to know just what to expect at this year's three Riot Fest performances. Would it turn out to be the best show ever?  A drunken debacle?  Both?

True to form, Westerberg humorously forgot song lyrics and guitarist Dave Minehan was a frequent foil:  "We could get Bob Mould up here in an instant" Westerberg joked during an at times sloppy take on "Waitress in the Sky."  "Could you lose that Cure thing?" he said of the guitarist's effects selections during "Swingin' Party," actually walking over to him to turn off effects pedals.  "It came back... It came f----n' back, man" he continued upon rejoining the song.

And while more well known songs like "Alex Chilton," "Kiss Me on the Bus," "Can't Hardly Wait," "Bastards of Young" and especially "Left of the Dial" were predictably great, it was a few of the slightly deeper cuts that provided some of the set's best moments.  "I Don't Know" in particular hit a groove early, Stinson's bass chugging along, while "Little Mascara" was particularly raucous later on, it's huge riffs more than filling the festival expanse.

"I'm an old hand at this... I'm a music business professional" quipped Westerberg early Sunday.  And while that's open to debate, when the dust settled Sunday night (and the rain picked up right where it left off a few hours earlier almost the moment the music stopped), one thing was certain: Sunday's was probably the sharpest we'll ever see The Replacements.  And while it wasn't a perfect set, it was a great set.

- Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)
(Jim also hosts "The Rock N' Roll Radio Program" weekends on WIMS and WHFB)

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