First Avenue’s annual Replacements Tribute show sold out like it does every year. For many, it marks the beginning of the Holiday Season in a manner in which the namesake might approve. Not that The Replacements would approve of over 40 local musicians piling in to play their songs. They’d probably think that was about the dumbest thing imaginable. By the same token, there are a number of very good reasons so many of the Twin Cities artists are out in force and you can’t get a ticket.
One thing for sure, there are two types of people in Minnesota. Those who gear up to go shopping on Black Friday. And those that wouldn’t be caught dead in a mall, fighting like a salmon upstream on the day after Thanksgiving. That’s the crew you’ll find packing The Turf Club.
For anyone who has never attended one of these hootenanny’s, let me lay out the format. The appetizer is seven bands, mostly up and comers, rotating between the two stages downstairs in the Clown Lounge and up in the main club. Each has claimed five songs which they do their best to personalize and let rip. The main course is an extended set by The Melismatics, without a doubt one of the premier rock bands in the Twin Cities. While they are perfectly capable of delivering each and every song, a cavalcade of friends flow across the stage singing selected tunes.
The Melismatics are the glue. Not only are they good enough to drop in and back so many different types of vocalists, they are probably the only band in town that could make this all happen. There is this kind of lineage that exists when it comes to the Minnesota punk/rock scene and they are part of that main root. You can point to Soul Asylum as part of that same flow. Not surprising, Melismatics front man Ryan Smith is also lead guitar player in that band. His wife and band mate Pony is a long time queen of the rock and roll scene. Bottom line is they’re the perfect host. It’s all connected.
There’s this adage that the Blues had a baby and they named it Rock n Roll. Well, in this town the Suicide Commandos had a baby and it was named Husker Du. The Huskers begat The Replacements, which begat Soul Asylum. That eventually passed its genes The Melismatics. And what the Melismatics and the Tribute format does is to provide an opportunity for a whole bunch of young players to show what they’ve learned from drinking from the same font. To discover those who may have those same genes. Those “young” guns are just that. They range in age from about 12 to 30.
There’s no way to comment on eight bands and another dozen guest vocalists in the scope of a single article. So my purpose here will be to highlight those songs/performances/impressions that made an impact on this writer. Any time you put together a madhouse like this, there are some rough patches. At the same time, there are moments that are simply sublime. Some bands were made to play Replacements tunes and they own them. Some bands are just happy to be part of the party and do their best to learn and hold together some new tunes. So the performances vary from a bit tentative to full tilt swagger. The cool thing is that everybody is on the same page, fully supportive of each other and doing their part to keep the legacy alive.
All Tribute shows kick off with Mad Ripple Hoot For Slim, a conglomeration of musicians who grew up sharing the scene and stage with The Replacements. Friends and former running mates of guitarist Slim Dunlap. It’s loose, informal and joyful. Songs are passed and stories told. The Clown Lounge was packed as the night began.
The first band to hit the main stage was The Shackletons. If there is a group which may be seen as the genetic heir to the tradition, it’s these guys. They’re fast, brash and can flat out rock. The standing joke, which came up during the set, is that for The Shacks, doing Replacements is not a stretch. The Replacements have always been their favorite band. If that originals thing doesn’t work out, they’ll try their hand as a Mats’ cover band. This was the right band to light the fuse. Rather than going out to Bastards Of Young, which pummeled the audience, the guys had another gear and brought the house down with Sixteen Blue.
Last Import was the next up in the big room. This three piece line up is at the forefront of a burgeoning punk girl scene in town. This notice just earned them an opening slot at The Palace in the near future. In some ways, this was a bit of a stretch for the ladies. But they delivered one of my favorite moments of the evening. I found myself reflecting on front woman Emily Bjork, who looks like the prototype of a Minnesota Girl. Long blond tresses, blue eyes, red plaid flannel and a healthy complexion that just about shines. When she opened her mouth and screeched “Open up, you little snot!” (from Tommy Got His Tonsils Out), it was a perfect Replacements image. They might look like nice Midwestern kids, from middle class families. But what hits the stage is anything but.
The Bad Man also delivered a top notch, high energy set. These guys have been picking up fans rapidly as their new tunes burn up the airwaves. Peter Memorich is a dynamo, strutting about the stage, throwing punches and laughing with the audience. I’ve caught The Bad Man three times doing their own punk ska thing during 2018; I have always been entertained. However, I will confess that by the end of those sets I always wanted a bit more variation in both pace and style. I particularly enjoyed this set because it forced the band to play by Replacements’ Rules: no boundaries. I hope some of their selections find their way into their regular shows. The songs expanded the band’s range and much of it flat worked.
As I mentioned previously, The Turf was full. It was difficult to move from main room to Clown Lounge. So for the most part, the modus operandi was to stick to one place rather than trying to move back and forth. I was able to catch a bit of Sapphire, doomChild and Fury Things downstairs. But I was not able to move up to a place where I could really appreciate what was going on. Fury Things has been around for a number of years and I was familiar with them. The other two were new to me. My biggest impression was their youth.
One of the great things about this particular night is that youth is definitely served. It’s an investment in our musical future. It’s also an opportunity for young players to play in front of a big raucous crowd. This is where dreams become set in stone. Most fans who attend understand this. Rather than being critical because some “opening” band isn’t up to the standards of a headliner, everyone is encouraged, supported and cheered. It’s easy to pick out the parents of those minors who step on stage. The nerves, wonder and sheer pride are written on their faces. For the youngsters it’s not just a rush. It’s about beginning to feel they belong. That music fans are willing to come see them and to pay them for their work. Feel good stories, all. It’s a big part of what makes this music scene great.
I mentioned earlier that I’d just highlight a few of the Melismatics/guest vocalist performances. I apologize in advance to any that you loved which I may have skipped. After all, I’m not a critic. I’m only here to tell you what I saw and personally experienced. But speaking of youth, the young ladies from Loki’s Folly were a gas!
Loki’s Folly is two young sisters who I’d judge to both be no more than 12 to 14 years old. On drums and guitar they transform from two shy, soft spoken girls to throwing down the punk as hard as they can. I first caught them opening for Gramma’s Boyfriend at Icehouse on Halloween weekend. Late in December they’ll make their First Avenue Mainroom debut, opening for Soul Asylum. Their song choice of Kid’s Don’t Follow was just about perfect. After switching around the stage, figuring out mics and plugging in, the band exploded. Loud, rude and tight. The young ladies brought the place down!
Another odd deviation from the norm was The Melismatics clearing the stage for a solo acoustic offering from John Swardson. From beneath the bill of his Cincinnati Reds ball cap, he led the crowd in the iconic ballad Here Comes A Regular. This is the culminating song from the band’s 1985 masterpiece Tim. Few songs in the canon better express Paul Westerberg’s penchant for writing ballads that cut a vein about self doubt, self sabotage and trying to fit in a world that seems “normal” to others. Glasses were raised. 300 people sang with him: “Opportunity knocks once. Then the door slams shut. All I know is that I’m sick of all the things my money can buy. A fool wastes his life. God Rest His Guts.” I was not the only one who wiped a tear from his eye. It’s a song about what might have been.
Perhaps my favorite of the guest slots came in the form of Faith Boblett’s rendition of Skyway. This was a surprise to me since I’m clearly a Replacements rocker fan, first and foremost. Obviously, this little ditty put Minneapolis on the map. Once again, the audience wanted to sing along. Her effort was this absolutely gorgeous, crystalline country take that made the song soar. There were a number of very accomplished female singers in the mix last night. But Faith was the rose in the garden. She’s an artist I’m going to go out of my way to find again. And soon.
Seriously, folks. This is a show that needs to be on your must see list. It’s a bit of everything that makes our scene so damn cool. Admittedly, there are other scenes and other styles. Let’s face it, The Replacements during their heyday pissed a lot of people off with their antics. They never reached the stature of somebody like Prince. Yet the arc of time and forgiveness have lifted what they did to the realm of iconic. If you continue to rock, if you still bridle against the rules, you’re smarter than you let on and you laugh when the back end of your car begins to slide out in the snow, this is the one you love. It’s all about a legacy. It’s all about musicians sharing. It’s as much about our musical future as it is a tribute.