It's on. It's off. It's the end of the world. The sky is falling and I might die without ever seeing The Replacements.
What a crazy, rain-filled day Saturday, September 27, was as torrential downpours, micro bursts, and low levels of chaos hit Tempe and almost ruined the fun for fans who flocked to Tempe Beach Park to check out day two of the Summer's End festival. The fun was called off around 2 p.m. when the sky opened up and dropped rain by the buckets amid winds strong enough to rip sizable trees out of the ground. Rumors about where the two main bands, The Replacements and Descendents, might end up playing began to swirl, but considering it was a Lucky Man Concerts show, the only logical choice was the Marquee Theatre.
As the sky eased up and details were released, fans flocked to the venue on North Mill Avenue to make sure they were able to garner a rare chance to see The Replacements, who headlined the show after a long absence from the Valley. The buzz in the air was palpable and the atmosphere was more than festive, even if the festival itself had almost been completely derailed by a seemingly vengeful Mother Nature. Smiles were apparent all around and it seemed, at least to this observer, people were in a great, if not hugely relieved, mood as they filed into the venue.
As the Marquee filled up and became both achingly and beautifully moist, most everyone I spoke to, or overheard, was either talking about how they had never seen The Replacements or Descendents (or both), or how it had been 20-plus years since seeing them, and also, they wondered aloud, "When would the opening bands be finished?"
While not my cup of tea, a good majority of the audience seemed to really like Switchfoot and Taking Back Sunday. I missed the Maine completely as I waited in line outside (which was not nearly as long as I had thought it might be), but was told they "weren't as bad" as the previously mentioned Switchfoot and Taking Back Sunday. At very least, Switchfoot seemed to have great energy, and their innocuous alt-pop was white noise in the background of several great conversations I had catching up with old friends. They even covered the Beastie Boys song "Sabotage." The San Diego band has some decent taste.
Taking Back Sunday, however, was pretty dreadful. The world definitely does not need another Foo Fighters, and lead singer Adam Lazzara's dance moves looked ridiculous on the Marquee's many monitors. Again, though, most of the crowd seemed to love them, so bless their hearts for sticking it out and playing the show when they could have just as easily gotten on their bus and headed to the next gig. The mood of the venue definitely picked up when Taking Back Sunday was finished, since longtime melodic punks Southern California'sDescendents were up next.
I'm showing my age here, but I last saw the Descendents in the '80s. Full disclosure, I have always loved them, and 1982's Milo Goes to College, which was their first full-length release, is one of my all-time favorite records. On this muggy night in September 2014, they were firing on all cylinders, even if some of their songs sounded a tad tame compared to the selections they played off of the aforementioned classic slab of punk vinyl. Compared to many of their early '80s punk rock peers, they still sound great, though, and Milo Aukerman, the Ph.D.-holding lead singer, was in fine voice, for sure. He prowled around the stage, still oozing a bit of the nerdy outsider image he carried so well as a young punk who refused to wear the requisite uniform of his time, and was completely in command of the crowd, which was still huge.
One of the coolest things I witnessed during the Descendents set was how many people, some of which I would have never in a million years pictured as a Descendents fan, were singing along with Aukerman in full voice as they roared through their songs. Guitarist Stephen Egerton, who also plays in FLAG, bassist Karl Alvarez, and original (and only) drummer, Bill Stevenson, all absolutely ruled their instruments. Sadly, I found myself wishing I was seeing the band in some small dive, though, as their set lacked the intimacy I remember from seeing them at places like the Metro back in the day.
When Descendents concluded, there was small exodus of folks who left the Marquee, and boy, did those folks who bailed early miss out on perhaps the best rock and roll show the Phoenix area has seen in a long time. After a lengthy tuning up period, The Replacements finally took the stage and immediately began an onslaught which brought the joyous crowd to a heightened state of euphoria. Even though the vocals were missing in the mix for the song and a half, it was almost okay as the crowd made up for it by singing Paul Westerberg's lines for him. And for Westerberg, The Replacements' venerable lead singer and guitar player, all I can say is, "Wow!"
The man is a songwriting genius and the show, supposedly The Replacements' first club gig in more than 20 years, did absolutely nothing to tarnish his image, even if he did forget the occasional lyric. When a band goes away for as long as The Replacements have, it is easy to overlook just how many great songs they wrote and recorded. Westerberg's contribution to the American musical canon, along with his bandmates, is truly remarkable, and their set list on Saturday was a killer mix of their best songs, with a few covers thrown in.
When the other original member of the band, bassist Tommy Stinson, strode out on stage in a Teletubbies costume with his huge "I know I'm cool enough to completely pull this off" grin on his face, I think everyone knew we were in for a treat. Stinson is a bass player's bass player and between he and Descendents' bassist Karl Alvarez, Saturday night was a clinic for how to make the most out of an instrument with just four strings. Stinson's melodic runs and hard-charging bass lines on the more punk-ish early Replacements' songs were super-tight. One can't help but see a resemblance between Tommy Stinson and the late Sid Vicious, although Vicious never played his bass even close to as deftly as the ever-grinning Replacement.
Drummer to the stars Josh Freese skillfully handled the duties behind the kit and touring member guitarist Dave Minehan did his best Bob Stinson impersonation. Both of the gents seemed as equally pleased to be indoors as Westerberg and Stinson, who interacted with the crowd between songs like the humble rock royalty they are. For me, there were two or three songs that really stood out as I watched the band go through their set. Relatively early on, The Replacements played "Color Me Impressed" off of Hootenanny (1983), which was always a favorite of mine and I never thought I would get a chance to see it played live. I looked around the Marquee and saw so many smiles on the bobbing heads, it was one of those great moments where you know you are right where you are supposed to be at that very moment.
A few songs later, after a truly Replacement-ish cover of the Jackson 5's, "I Want You Back," the band played an awesome version of "If Only You Were Lonely" that just about brought tears to my eyes. Consider me a sucker for songs about being drunk, lonely, and horny, I guess, but the delivery of the lyrics, with perfectly played guitar over soft bass and drums was truly mesmerizing. To be honest, the entire set was brilliant. I could gush about nearly every song, for one reason or another, and if you weren't there, you're going to be hearing about it from everyone who was there for quite awhile.
As the set was starting to come to a close, the band was clearly having way too much fun, so we were treated to a finish rivaling every concert happening on the planet last night. Going back to back with "Can't Hardly Wait" and "Bastards of the Young" had the entire crowd singing along, and when they came back for their encore with "Alex Chilton," you could almost hear the hearts breaking that it would all come to close very soon. Those of us who stayed to the end wandered out with our smiles still intact. The night was beautiful and it was fitting to venture into the rain cleansed air of our desert city with hope in our hearts and drunk on possibility.
Last Night: What: Day two of the Summer's End Music Festival featuring The Replacements, Descendents, Taking Back Sunday, Switchfoot, and the Maine.
The Crowd: Smiling folks with money for beer and $40 T-shirts. In some ways, it was a who's who of the Valley music scene, and it was definitely a wide range of ages.
Overheard in the Crowd: Sort of drunk-ish beardo: "Four bands that explain it all, man, just four bands: Velvet Underground, Big Star, REM, Replacements." Sort of stoned-ish friend: "Yeah, man. Yeah."
Personal Bias: Descendents are still great, but I'd really love to see them just play songs off of Milo Goes to College. Also, The Replacements fucking ruled.
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