The Riot Fest reunion of The Replacements and The Pixies recalls a familiar rock and roll dilemma. Is it a money grab, or true artistic pursuit? The nostalgia gig has become commonplace nowadays, but in the Replacements case no one cares because they never had this kind of headliner status to begin with. How do you sell out, when you never sold? Paul Westerberg would surly say, “Who gives a F....” Rightly so, as their Chicago stop of Riot Fest was as good as it gets. Seconds after proclaiming “We haven’t played in three weeks,” they tore into ‘Takin a Ride’ like it was twenty years ago. Thousands of beat up, rain soaked fans, sang along word for word.
Has this ever happened to the Replacements? What would it feel like to come face to face with two decades of bottled up adoration? They delivered their loose, “Exile on Mainstreet” sound with more honesty than the Rolling Stones. The drunken smirks have somehow gracefully aged to cynical grins. Still taking requests, just like their live classic “The S..t hits the fans, Westerberg asked the crowd if they wanted ‘Kiss Me on the Bus’, or ‘Waitress in the Sky.‘ They delivered both, including a very loose ‘Waitress’ seemingly unrehearsed. It was the good kind of loose, where the song is on the edge of breaking down, but the band just manages to keep on the tracks. Their night was finally the money grab they deserve and hopefully the sign of more to come.
The up-and-down set from The Pixies came across as more of a work in progress. While playing almost all the new material, it seemed like a struggle at times. It was a tough spot. Appearing on the stage adjacent to the oncoming Replacements, the question being murmured throughout the crowd was, “When do we move?” The buzz was also about the missing Kim Deal. The strongest of the “Deal-less” songs, Bagboy, sounded too bare compared to the studio version, and the layered vocals looked more like work for the band. It’s obvious they are committed to the new songs, but the question remains, “Is it still the Pixies without Kim Deal?” The same argument can be made about The Replacements having only two of the founding members.
Riot Fest is a weird mix. Middle aged parents schlep strollers around while watching kids half their age mimic a circle mosh pit (see Black Flag 1984). With little security presence, thousands of pseudo punk rockers put up with each other and somehow it works. It’s a little unnerving at times, but then rock and roll should be a little scary, shouldn’t it?