Photos: The Replacements bring the mess to Riot Fest Denver (review) - Reverb

The Replacements at Riot Fest Denver (photos, review)

It is not a criticism to say the Replacements’ third and (presumably) final reunion concert in a dusty farmer’s field an hour east of Denver was a shit show. Most lifetime fans will recognize that as a compliment. The Replacements were underground keepers of the flame for gritty, lo-fi rock that paved the way for the grunge explosion of the 1990s.

You expect things to get a little messy. You WANT things to get a little messy.

And that encore on Saturday was a proper shambles.

See our full coverage of Riot Fest Denver here.

Headlining the first day of Riot Fest Denver, the Mats wore pink skirts and orange cowboy hats that seemed to be a color-blind homage to the Denver Broncos. That bassist Tommy Stinson claimed their Colorado-born, Rockmount snap-on Western shirts were actually made in India came off as more of a head-scratching comment than overtly rude. Not so when he blithely remarked, “At least you didn’t get rain,” a ghastly reference to the recent flooding that has devastated parts of the state.

With the Mats, the more awkward, the better.

But The Semi-Replacements: Paul Westerberg and Stinson, joined by ReplaceMats Josh Freese on drums and David Minehan on guitar, delivered an energetic late-night set that landed somewhere left of the historic dial. It was joyful and urgent, but just precise and scripted enough (down to some of the banter) to make you presume that must have been the anachronistic intent here.

It was certainly a curious set that seemed cheerfully unaware of its own significance.

The Replacements were playing the last of their only three shows in more than 20 years, following gigs in Toronto and Chicago. And WTF, we got it. Not Minneapolis. Not New York. Not L.A. Rather: A field-turned-rock-carnival right here in Nowhere Land Freaking Byers. Population: 1,160. Population Saturday: Guessing about 10,000.

All day, there was a sense of building, palpable joy for the utter randomness of it all. As if no one could believe the Replacements — the band that was responsible for some of the most raw and uncompromising and thoughtful rock of the Reagan-era decade — were actually going to step out on one of these three stages and play songs. Having bands like Guided by Voices and Iggy and the Stooges nearby helped set the mood, but there was a certain sameness to the rest of the day’s lineup. And as day wore on, the wait grew excruciating.

It turned out to be a miscalculation to not start the headliner till 10:30, when everyone not camping overnight would still face at least an hour ride back to civilization afterward. And because The ‘Mats saved most of what few hits they played for the end, scores of the under-40 newbies in the crowd departed long before the band did.

Those who stayed till the end were treated to hilarious bits of tomfoolery both musical and man-made. Westerberg’s incoherent homage to Colorado’s own String Cheese Incident, for one. Also: A Colorado-only nod to Tex Ritter (“Jingle Jangle Jingle”), and a mash-up of “Love You Till Friday” with Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline.” Westerberg, at 53, still singing that signature, adolescent question: “Whatcha gonna do with your life?” (“Nothing!”)

Most fun was simply watching Stinson and Westerberg grinning at each other throughout like schoolgirls, which is sort of what they looked like in their skirts as Westerberg sang “Androgynous,” the only thing remotely approaching a ballad the band played all night. It’s too bad that if Westerberg had to botch the words to one song, it was this one — a heartfelt plea for gender tolerance that makes it one of many Mats tunes to retain both its visceral vulnerable and social relevance. Made more special by Westerberg singing “Here comes Dick; he’s wearing a skirt,” while wearing one himself. And leggings, too. If only he could have remembered how it went.

‘Round midnight, Westerberg finally started throwing fans some bigger bones: “Alex Chilton,” “I Don’t Know,” “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Bastards of Young.” Then came the most hilariously awkward encore ever. It began with Westerberg taking the drums for “Hootenanny.” Westerberg then mocked concert cliche by asking fans for requests he had no intention of playing. Because there were an unfortunate a number of major ‘Mats sits still yet unsung, the crowd went full-throated: “Skyway!” “Here Comes a Regular!” “I Will Dare!” “Waitress in the Sky!” “Unsatisfied!” “Fast and Hard!” “IOU!” they screamed. Stinson sort of started songs that he just as quickly aborted. The band looked utterly confused and walked off-stage, presumably to regroup for a proper encore.

And … they never came back.

It was a quintessentially self-destructive ‘Mats moment. And a perfect ending to any ‘Mats show, even if it left some of those who don’t know better scratching their heads in a farmer’s field at midnight. “Thank you for enduring this,” Stinson said.

To all of those 16-year-old boys who grew up with Gordon Gano, John Doe and Billy Bragg, the night made plain there is still a place for 53-year-old Paul Westerberg and what his generation of songwriters have to say. It also made plain that 16-year-old boys are growing up today in a musical landscape utterly void of profound songwriters like them.

No doubt many aging Mats fans left with their need for nostalgia sated. I felt it was just a hilarious way to spend a sloppy Saturday night. Even if it wasn’t a night for the ages … There’s no replacement for the Replacements.


1. Takin a Ride

2. I’m in Trouble

3. My Favorite Thing

4. Shiftless When Idle
5. Hangin Downtown

6. Jingle Jangle Jingle (Tex Ritter cover)
7. Color Me Impressed

8. Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out

9. On The Bus
10. Achin’ to Be

11. Androgynous

12. I Will Dare

13. Love You Till Friday/Maybelline

14. Merry Go Round

15. Wake Up

16. Borstal Breakout (Sham 69 cover)
17. Little Mascara

18. Left of the Dial

19. Alex Chilton

20. I Don’t Know
21. Hold My Life
22. Hello Goodbye (Beatles cover)
23. Can’t Hardly Wait
24. Bastards of Young


25. Hootenanny

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John Moore founded The Denver Post Underground Music Showcase in 2001 and served as deputy sports editor, rock writer and theater critic at The Denver Post. He now writes for and is an in-house journalist for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Follow him on Follw him on Twitter.

Dylan Langille is a Fort Collins-based photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his photos here.

Seth A. McConnell is a staff photographer for the YourHub section of the Denver Post and is a regular contributor to Reverb.

Categories: Home, Photos
  • der der

    shit review

  • Aquaman

    Tommy reference about the rain is about the Chicago show where it rained and not about the floods. The review certainly seems suspect…did the Replacements actually have “Hits”? Not really but with fan favorites such as I’m In Trouble, Color Me Impressed, Kiss Me On the Bus and I Will Dare in the first half it certainly wouldn’t seem like they were holding anything back on the crowd.

  • Elaina Boytor

    I feel like I’m missing some sort of bitter backstory between The Replacements and the reviewer. Did Paul date your sister or something?

    • Catherine Atchison Clements

      he wishes Paul had dated his sister.

  • Mats Fan

    You forgot to include the cover of Detroit Rock City during the encore.

  • dj

    the song is called ‘favorite thing’, not my favorite thing.

  • chad

    The song is called “Kiss Me On the Bus”, not “On The Bus”.

  • Ronnie 33

    At the end Tommy said “You hired us”, meaning this is what you get. “Thank you for enduring this” is a apology. That’s not what he said.

  • Ronnie 33

    Why the concern with a band starting at 10:30? That doesn’t seem terribly late for a band to start playing…

    • montoym

      It’s not generally, but it was the big picture, as mentioned in the story. That 10:30 start meant an 11:45 finish and doesn’t count the long wait to get out of the lot and onto I-70 plus the 1hr+ drive back to wherever you need to go.

      So, people are getting home around 1am, if they’re lucky. and probably much later. Maybe not a big deal in a Saturday, but such a late finish on Sunday was a bit tough to deal with. That said, I still did it and got home at about 4am after dropping off everyone who went along with me.

      • missyfinn

        The Replacements were the Saturday night show.

        • montoym

          I’m aware, I was there. My comment was not about the Replacements show nor was Ronnie’s directly since the headliner both nights were scheduled for 10:30.

  • Lynda Malaika Land

    Um, I think that Little Mascara and Achin’ To Be and Merry Go Round are also ballads, along with Androgenous. When the reviewer learns a bit himself with what he is supposed to be writing about, then i will pay him much more mind. Now, not so much. Mats fan of 28-29 years here. The Replacements weren’t ABOUT hits, but they did give us, the die-hard fan, a great set list with most(if not all) of OUR favorites. We’re the ones who bought all the albums and concert tickets over the years, so we’re really all who matter here, huh? And the boys did us good. Damn good! By the way, did it ever occur to you that just because their hats were orange, that was not a nod to the Broncos, but maybe they were the closest thing to pink they could find? Maybe it’s a tie-in to Colorado’s love of guns and hunting…(“Don’t shoot! I’m only the singer/songwriter!”) Seriously, if you’re going to write an article, do your research first or don’t bother.

    • J. Dennis Thomas

      Bob used to sometimes where big foam cowboy hats and skirts on stage.

      • Lynda Malaika Land

        ya, that too!

        • Lynda Malaika Land

          I though the little nods to Bob were really sweet. : )

  • Josh

    Your review is wrong and you know nothing of the band. Go work at a bank you hack.

  • kdennis

    Interesting review, I can tell you have a lot of respect for the songs. You were expecting a polished performance? My first Replacements show decades ago featured three of the four band members. Tommy Stinson had been busted for underage drinking prior to show time. The band decided to have what became known as a ‘hootenany': switching instruments and playing songs they don’t know. So Saturday night’s encore was an an entirely appropriate – and hilariously unexpected – finale to an epic Mats performance. Dropped lyrics, costumes, Westerberg’s comment that he wasn’t going to give bassist Stinson grief for being in Van Halen – that is the ultimate Replacements concert experience.

    • Catherine Atchison Clements

      I remember them walking around on stage, too drunk to play anything, just starting songs then aborting them and laughing.

  • crow-t-robot

    Truly, it was a kickass Replacements show.

  • Denver Thread

    Well put. And woe to the kids who don’t have Westerbergs and Braggs to call their own in this generation (replaced with *gag* Patrick Stump and Mark Hoppus and the like). At least some of them got to see the legends play – and they played well. Though I heartily agree that these ‘Mats did come across a bit staid – and staged – but what should we expect from the aging geniuses – and only half the band, to boot? Technically fantastic – but, technically, not really a Replacements show. So good to see the boys on stage having fun, and the kids watching with bright eyes – hopefully some opened a little further as a result.

    • J. Dennis Thomas

      Half the band. Yeah so what? Bob’s dead and Mars hasn’t picked up a drumstick in 20 years Slim is incapacitated and wasn’t an original member anyway so…

      Would you rather have seen Slim up there not being able to play and Mars making a wreck out the songs because he can’t play the drums?

      Freese kept it tight and Minehan’s playing was as frenetic as Bob’s. It was a perfect lineup.

  • J. Dennis Thomas

    I really think the reviewer missed the mark on this one. The comment about the Rockmount shirts isn’t a “head-scratcher” at all. I thought the same thing when I bought a new one a few months back. Those are $100 western shirts, you kinda expect them to be USA made. Anyway…

    The “ghastly” reference to rain was about the Chicago show, not about the floods. Keep in mind that Tommy may not have even been aware of the floods. Unfortunately, it wasn’t covered much by mainstream media outside of your state (presumably due to the Miley Cyrus twerking fiasco). I hadn’t heard about the floods until a couple of days before I left and that’s only because I have a friend in Boulder. Also I think Tommy’s a little preoccupied with the task at hand. So cut the dude some slack and stop being so self-centered. Finally, the skirts and cowboy hats were an homage to BOB not your f’n FOOTBALL team. Colorado is not the epicenter of the universe.

    Crying abut starting the band at 10:30? What are you, 72? It’s RIOT Fest. “If it’s too late, you’re too old”. I’m surprised you didn’t complain about the volume as well.

    And as far as messing up vocals and making things a shambles, well that’s what the ‘Mats DO and always have done. They played THREE shows in 22 years. I’m amazed he remembered most of the words. I doubt Paul sits around listening to ‘Mats records as often some of us do. Not to mention he didn’t attempt to cover for himself. He self- deprecatingly commented about it. And in the end it didn’t even matter because the crowd was singing the right words all along.

    Paul didn’t “mock” the concert cliché. That’s his wry sense of humor. Which apparently you just don’t get. The same goes with Tommy’s comment as well. I know sarcasm can be hard to understand in the internet, but if you can’t get in in REAL LIFE you got some issues dude.

    The shambles ending was just the band screwing around. They didn’t walk off in confusion to regroup. I watched them walk down the stairs at stage right to the waiting van. They were hugging, laughing, smiling, and slapping each other on the back. Ecstatic after putting on a GREAT show. They stepped into the van and drove right off. There was no encore planned. They did what the ‘Mats do and they did it better than they every did it before.

    And while this review is pretty much crap, I will say the photographers are great. It was great working in the photo pit with Dylan and Seth. Too bad they didn’t send a proper concert reviewer along with the photographers.

    • mike

      Amen. I was there. Spot on commentary J. Dennis.

      My review: It. Was. Perfect.

      • J. Dennis Thomas

        Well, in the author’s defense I read some of his other reviews. He thinks the Avett Brothers are great and that Mumford & Sons do Americana better than Americans.

        It’s pretty obvious he has bad taste in music so I guess I can forgive him for being ignorant.

        He probably didn’t even want to review the show because he was tired and cranky as it was past his 10:30 bedtime.

  • Catherine Atchison Clements

    I just want to say that I was there. AND!!! does anyone know of the “left of the dial” shirts are available for sale anywhere?

    • J. Dennis Thomas

      I keep kicking myself for not buying one, but I was cold and bought a hoodie instead.

      • Catherine Atchison Clements

        I have the graphic, I will probably just make my own this weekend. Hp makes iron on transfer paper and its fine for my needs.

  • Jake

    Hey Douche, the “at least it’s not raining” is in reference to the Chicago show. do your research and you’ll see it rained at Riot Fest the day they played. Don’t trash the greatest band to ever play music. Please to do any other reviews on our favorite band.

    • jake

      DO NOT do! jackass.

  • Karen

    What a stupid review! The band in drag was a tribute to Bob Stinson and the rain reference was about the show in Chicago that was a mudfest. Nobody who knows the Replacements at all would say they saved most of “what few hits they played til the end”……they were all hits you jackass. Don’t write about music you are not familiar with, moron.

  • Sean F

    Cool photos at least.

  • ‘Matsman

    Reverb, please stop paying kids without a clue to review real rock shows.
    Thanks in advance.

  • Roger Wilco

    The Replacements put on the most electric concert I’ve seen in years.
    They seemed to be riding the edge without a safety net the whole time.