Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Replacements, GWAR, Public Enemy & Riot Fest!

I now have the Replacements Chicago performance in my rear view mirror by three weeks. My perspective of the show isn't much different than it was three hours afterwards. I have only been to a couple of music festivals, but I have to hand it to Riot Fest; it was a really great event. Entertainment everywhere. Music, carnival rides, street performers, affordable grub, and a nice even for people watching. Above all though, I enjoyed the music. 

I got to see a lot of bands play, and while I liked Blondie, the Violent Femmes, Joan Jett, and others, the stars of the weekend for me were GWAR, Public Enemy and of course, the Replacements. Perhaps GWAR and Public Enemy hit me so hard because I had not seen them before and wasn't really sure what to expect, but they delivered. 

On Friday night, Chris and I had decided that we would go over and see GWAR. We had both heard from friends that they were a crazy act and not to be missed. I guess I didn't quite understand what I was getting ready to see, but right from the get go, the music didn't agree with me, but the theatrics did. I'm not much into heavy metal and GWAR brings the thunder. Loud guitars, screaming lyrics and a relentless drive. To each his own....I'm not knocking it. The stage show was a different matter. I love some insanity on stage and that's just what GWAR brought. This is a family blog, so I really can't go into much detail. Yeah, it was THAT crazy. Lots of "blood" and "semen" and "semen and blood". Lots of entrails being ripped out. The rape of a priest. A zombie Jesus. A few people left and I'm guessing that they had no idea what they were in for. I will post a You Tube link to some video of their act, because I just can't do it justice with the written word. I'm not that strong of a writer! If I had to try to pin the show down to one word, it would be "HILARIOUS"! I couldn't stop laughing. Back in my Christian days I would have been appalled....offended....angry. But, without that prevailing worldview to sort through any longer, I was able to laugh at some of the ridiculous depictions that took place. I wouldn't go out of my way to see this band, nor would I buy their music, but they sure know how to put on a show!

Public Enemy was another act I wanted to be sure to catch while in Chicago. Not so much because I'm a big fan, but because I appreciate their place in both musical and popular culture. Not quite the kick in the balls that NWA provided at their peak, but they were (and still are) artists that highlight social injustice and provide lyrics that promote human unity and "fighting the power" when the power needs to be fought. My friend Greg had turned me on to them in college and again, while I'm not a big fan, I really did have an appreciation for what they did. Chuck D, Professor Griff and the rest of the band came on and immediately the crowd reacted positively. It wasn't until Flavor Flav hit the stage that things went to the next level. The guy is a show unto himself and he clearly loves the "love". When he wasn't pimping every single social media/internet site that you could find the word "flavor" on, he was doing his thing as the best "hype man" in the game. He's got some solid skills though and even sat behind the drum kit and kicked some ass too. Chris and I were right in the middle of the crowd, fist pumping and feeling the love. The DJ was superb as was the musicianship. A genuine highlight of the weekend for me. A really fun time.

The reason I was at Riot Fest at all was The Replacements. Sure, I love all sorts of music, but there is no way I travel 5 hours and spend what I spent to see anyone else. This is MY band and the chance to see Paul and Tommy share the stage again was something I wasn't going to pass on. Sure, they could continue to tour and come to Louisville, but that's far from a sure thing and again, no way I'm missing a "life opportunity". It was rainy on that much anticipated Sunday, so Chris and I lounged at the hotel for most of the day. As I explained in my previous post, we had a charmed experience getting to Humboldt Park. Got a nice spot just across the street for an easy $20. The rain relented and we went in and surveyed the damage from the weather. LOTS of mud, lots of muddy people. That did nothing to dampen my spirits. We hit the tents and grabbed some t-shirts and waited. We wanted to see the Pixies, but to get a prime time spot for the 'Mats, I let Chris lead the way and we gave up on watching Black Francis. We watched AFI and started moving through the crowd. When that show was over, we fought against the tide and made it damn near to the stage. A tremendous spot to see my musical heroes! 

During the hour long wait, we were packed in like sardines. That's not a situation I'm always comfortable in, but with all the fans surrounding me talking about this anticipated show, it made it much easier to tolerate. I spoke with quite a few people half my age. Florida, New York, Boston....people from all over had gathered to see this reunion. We swapped stories about the songs we loved, which albums were our tip top favorites and discussed why this bands legacy had endured. A legacy that is strong, with deep roots, but has stayed mostly outside the mainstream. The Replacements have had a huge influence on a lot of bands through the 90's up to today. That influence has been expressed in the press quite often since Paul and Tommy dusted off the Replacements name. They are an important part of the alternative movement. They helped build the foundation for bands like Green Day, Nirvana, the Goo Goo Dolls and so many others that hit it big with a sound that wasn't always polished. Raw and real was a sound that many music fans wanted coming off the prefabricated, over synthesized sounds of the 1980's. 

Back to Chicago. Twenty two years ago, the Replacements played a July 4th show at Grant Park (in Chicago) and stopped touring and recording together. Now, here I was, on the cusp of watching them return. I was a bit anxious, not exactly knowing what to expect. Sure, I had heard the Toronto performance a couple of weeks earlier, but this was Chicago! This is a city that had embraced the Replacements in their "Heyday" and was ready to do so again with a crowd of tens of thousand packed around the stage.

As soon as Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson made their appearance along with new Replacements Dave Minehan and Josh Freese, the outside world was forgotten. Even though I would ordinarily be out of my element in the middle of the chaos, right up front by the stage, I totally got into it. The crowd up front was truly like an ocean, you had to move with the ebb and flow or you would go down and that wouldn't be a good thing. "Takin' A Ride", "I'm In Trouble", "Favorite Thing".....these tunes opened the show and were played with fervor and passion. By the time they go to "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" there was no doubting that they could still pull the passion out of themselves to do these songs (now at or over 30 years old) without a hint of nostalgia. Paul noticed the digital clock (the festival had hard times for the bands to go on and be done) in front of him and picked it up to examine. Clock, we don't need no stinkin' clock. I shouted "Fuck that clock!!" and the guys next to me picked up on it and suddenly there was a contingent chanting "FUCK THAT CLOCK, FUCK THAT CLOCK!!!". Paul pulled the clock up and threw off the back of the stage. "You got your way. I'm an old hand at this. A music professional."

I felt like I was right where I should be, having a great time, absorbing the music and the energy of the crowd. For 25 songs time, age, work, the grind of day to day life went away. It was all about the music and seeing a band that I loved play the songs that meant something to me. Those songs and so many others that the Replacements played over the years are a part of who I am. Musically, my life is pretty much complete. I've seen Roger Waters and Paul McCartney, but I can't see Waylon and I can't see the Beatles, the Beastie Boys, or The Band, so the MUST SEE has been done. It was not anti-climactic at all for me. The performance was kick ass and I enjoyed myself as much as I ever have at a music show. I was home. They wound up the show with songs that couldn't have been any more perfect to send the crowd home with; "Hold My Life" and "IOU". A great experience that I'll never forget.