This entire day has been to the Replacements tune “Alex Chilton,” the deceased frontman of Big Star. An homage made by a band that received big praise from fans that have been deprived of their stage show for twenty-two years. Toronto was fortunate to be the first of a string of three Riot Fest gigs and the only Canadian date.
I have to admit, I’m a pretty green Replacements fan. I got into them after trying to get over a past lover years ago, which very unhealthily meant launching into something that he loved. In this scenario, I won, as the Replacements have become easily one of my favourite bands to come out of the eighties. They’re often regarded as a “heart-on-sleeve” alternative rock band, which diverged significantly from their punk rock predecessors. Perhaps that’s why my indie music heart fell for these Minnesota scrappers. There’s something sloppy about the Replacements, which launched my interest in the music scene they were based in. If you’re new to the ‘80s alternative rock music scene, I highly recommend Michael Azerrad’s excellent book Our Band Could Be Your Life. A book I read as another measure to impress the same ex-lover, which only served to heighten my respect for the Replacements.
The Replacements played a prompt set, starting right at 8:45pm, meeting their 10pm curfew. By the end of their set, I could tell they were stretching themselves thin. Bassist Tommy Stinson, no longer the runt of the band with drummer Josh Freese in tow, made remarks about how they’d play at least one song for their encore. After playing the tune “Alex Chilton,” the band shared some unease about the remaining time and providing some mid-set banter acknowledged to kill time in their set. Frontman Paul Westerberg jaunted out in a Montreal Canadians jersey, which yielded mixed remarks from the crowd. I was really surprised to see that some people threw water bottles at the band after seeing the Habs jersey. To close, they played two tunes, one being a rendition of the tune “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from the Broadway musical Gypsy, released on an EP released in 2012 called Songs for Slim. The band’s exit song “IOU” was from their 1987 album Pleased To Meet Me. While the tune received some success on the charts in its prime, it likely served as a nod to Iggy Pop who inspired the song based on an autograph that Pop had given to Westerberg in the mid-eighties that read “IOU Nothing.” Westerberg made slight reference at the beginning of the song to that very message.
After turning to the audience for requests mid set, the band played the Let It Be gem “Androgynous,” which Westerberg acknowledged was going to be played on the guitar, not the piano. They played a few other nuggets from the crowd-pleasing album Let It Be including “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “I Will Dare.” Westerberg dedicated the tune to anyone who was dragged to Riot Fest against his or her will. He stumbled through the lyrics of the third verse of the song, saved by guitarist David Minehan, who brought Westerberg back to the chorus. It was a bit of a trainwreck, but with each slip, Westerberg owned up to it shamelessly, once even stating, in true scrappy Replacements fashion, “ah, I forgot the lyric, oh well.”
The entire gig can actually be heard here.
The ultimate weakness of the Toronto festival was the unbalanced lineup over the two days. By choice, I only showed up for the second of two days, and I’m not complaining. Perhaps, I’m getting old in only wanting to attend one day’s worth of a festival… I arrived to find that Best Coast went on half an hour prior to their scheduled set time, which also meant they ended a bit earlier too. With each time I hear Best Coast they keep getting better. This is the third time I’ve seen the band play and beyond acquiring a better sound, the band has even added the occasional bass player, who primarily served as the third guitarist for most tunes. It was nice to hear songs like their closer “Boyfriend” bulked up with a backbone sound that a bassist gives to their music. Frontwoman Bethany Cosentino expressed delight and pride in claiming that she was honoured to be at the gig and that she was the only female performer. There were times during the Best Coast set where I felt a bit girly singing along to lyrics like “I hate sleeping alone” and “I wish I had a boyfriend” in the sea of tattoos and converse shoes. Just a few examples of uneasy Best Coast lyrics, which certainly ooze girl insecurities, a bit out of place at this festival.
Much of the rest of the gig served as an introduction to new music for me. Throughout the day there was much buzz about all of the big names that would be playing with bands. Perhaps the overlooked band members such as Minutemen founder Mike Watt, who played bass in Iggy Pop’s band the Stooges, session drummer Josh Freese, who joined the Mats. It was really invigorating to be exposed to bands that I have “heard of” but haven’t “heard” thoroughly. The live shows are always such a grab bag for first time listeners because of the distant, uneducated listen you’re giving the band. It is however exciting to see people really into music, and I feel as though day two of Riot Fest really gave in that respect. The lineup provided a constant flow of quality music, which left few dull moments, well worth the $80.