By John Curley
Forest Hills Stadium, a horseshoe-shaped concrete stadium in a residential section of Queens, NY that hosted tennis’ U.S. Open from 1924 to 1977, also had a musical legacy. Bob Dylan and The Beatles both famously performed there in the 1960s. Last year saw a revival of rock concerts at the venue with a show by Mumford & Sons. A permanent stage has been built at the open end of the stadium. The seating is mostly steel benches with some plastic, full-backed seats directly opposite the stage. There are no restrooms or concession stands in the stadium. Portable toilets were made available to concertgoers and food, drinks, and merchandise were sold from temporary tents set up outside the stadium. Despite those shortcomings, the show headlined by The Replacements on Friday, September 19th featured the clearest sound I’ve ever heard at an outdoor show. And it was a great late summer night for an outdoor concert, cool and breezy.
The triple bill of bands performing at the venue on September 19th necessitated an early start to the festivities because the show had to end at 10 p.m. due to a local noise ordinance. The first band on the bill, the alt/indie Providence, RI-based Deer Tick, took the stage at 6:30 p.m. when the vast majority of the crowd had yet to arrive. I missed most of Deer Tick’s set, only seeing the last five minutes or so of their 30-minute set.
There were considerably more people in the stadium when the Brooklyn-based quintet The Hold Steady took the stage at 7:15. Being local heroes, The Hold Steady got a great reaction from the crowd. One of rock music’s great storytellers, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn quickly had the crowd under his spell. There was much fist pumping and singing along during their 45-minute set. The crowd in front of the stage was going nuts during “Stay Postive,” The Hold Steady’s incendiary set closer.
Like The Pixies, who reunited in 2004 to great acclaim, the legend of The Replacements has grown during the two decades since the band broke up. While this tour is being talked about as a reunion of The Replacements and the band is touring under the name, it’s not a reunion of all of the surviving original members as their first drummer Chris Mars isn’t involved. Original members Tommy Stinson (bass and backing vocals) and Paul Westerberg (rhythm guitar and lead vocals) are joined on this tour by drummer Josh Freese and lead guitarist/backing vocalist Dave Minehan. In their original incarnation, the band was famous for sloppy performances. These included one on NBC’s Saturday Night Live in 1986 that got them banned from the show in the future. (The Replacements recently made their first appearance on NBC since then with a performance of “Alex Chilton” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.) I last saw The Replacements in March 1991 at the Beacon Theatre in New York City on the final tour before their split. While their Forest Hills show had some chaotic moments, The Replacements have never sounded better. Stinson’s longtime role as bassist with Guns N’ Roses and Westerberg’s two decades as a solo act have paid great dividends. The 23-year wait to see them live again was well worth it.
Coming onto the stage with “Jet Song” from West Side Story serving as their intro music, they tore right into “Favorite Thing” from 1984’s Let It Be album. Many in the crowd near the stage were bouncing up and down throughout the show, thrilled to see The Replacements back and firing on all cylinders. Stinson had the crowd laughing with his tale of injuring his nose in a fall while running for a train earlier in the day to get to the venue in time for soundcheck.
Westerberg had the crowd singing in full voice for many songs, particularly in the second half of their 90-minute set. The entire crowd seemed to be singing along during the performance of “Bastards Of Young.”
There were a few raucous covers performed throughout the set. Fan favorite “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” segued into a bit of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Third Stone From The Sun.” They also did a brief but awesome take on The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and a somewhat shambolic but rocking cover of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene.”
The Replacements’ set was packed with highlights, the performances of “Achin’ To Be,” “Androgynous,” “I Will Dare,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Bastards Of Young,” “Left Of The Dial,” and the main set closer, “Alex Chilton” among them. The encore of “Unsatisfied” received a huge reaction from the crowd. The 10 p.m. curfew apparently caused The Replacements to trim the set list a bit. But who could complain after a show that magnificent?
Freese and Minehan deserve a special mention as their energetic performances enhanced the material but never overwhelmed it. Stepping into a legendary band and being tasked with performing material that is beloved by so many ardent fans cannot be easy. But Freese and Minehan did it very well.
The Replacements have three more performances scheduled on this tour. They are: September 27th at the Summer Ends Music Festival in Tempe, AZ and on October 5th and October 12th at the Austin City Limits Festival in Austin, TX. See them while you can. Theirs is one of the must-see tours of 2014.
I don’t know what the future holds for The Replacements. I loved their music during my college years in the second half of the1980s and am very happy that I got to see them perform again. If this is the final hurrah for The Replacements, they are exiting on a high note.
For additional information on The Replacements, go to www.thereplacementsofficial.com.
The Hold Steady’s set list was as follows:
Hot Soft Light
I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You
Sequestered In Memphis
You Can Make Him Like You
Stuck Between Stations
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
The Replacements’ set list was as follows:
Takin’ A Ride
I’m In Trouble
Don’t Ask Why
I’ll Be You
Waitress In The Sky
Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out / Third Stone From The Sun (cover of song by The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Take Me Down To The Hospital
I Want You Back (cover of song by The Jackson 5)
Color Me Impressed
Nowhere Is My Home
If Only You Were Lonely
Achin’ To Be
Kiss Me On The Bus
I Will Dare
Love You Till Friday
Maybellene (cover of song by Chuck Berry)
Merry Go Round
All Shook Down
Love You In The Fall (Paul Westerberg song)
Can’t Hardly Wait
Bastards Of Young
White And Lazy
Left Of The Dial