For last year's inaugural Canadian edition of the Chicago-based punk rock music festival Riot Fest, Toronto was greeted by the likes of Fucked Up, Hot Water Music, NOFX and the Descendants. But for its second anniversary, festival organizers fully outdid themselves, nabbing not only Iggy & the Stooges, but '80s underground icons the Replacements to play their first show in 22 years.
The Replacements | Photo: Carrie Musgrave
But to witness the rock'n'roll legends, attendees would have to sit through five hours of sets, which ran the gamut between life-changing pop to patience-trying punk rock.
Getting the short end of the stick early on in the afternoon were resident Ontario punk rockers Single Mothers and the Flatliners, who were forced to race through 20-30 minute sets that were barely seen by the majority of Riot Fest attendees. Those able to make it to the festival's 2:20 pm start time, though, were treated to some of the most enthusiastic sets of the day, as the bands raced energetically to fit as many songs as possible into such a short allotment of time.
But as festivalgoers soon discovered, nothing ruins a day quite like Bethany Cosentino's bad mood. Taking the stage as the third act of the afternoon, the Best Coast frontwoman barely made an effort to inject any fun into the band's half-hour set. Playing a bunch of hits from their debut LP ("Goodbye," "Crazy for You") and the few remaining quality tracks from last year's forgettable The Only Place (i.e. the album's title-track), it wasn't uncommon to hear the Californian singer-songwriter sigh into the mic. After awhile, it actually became more fun to watch J Mascis inspect his Marshall stacks as he prepared for his following slot.
Performing a set short on banter but high on shredding, Mascis and co. scorched through 30 minutes of high-octane rock, including fuzzed-out rendition of '90s college radio staples "Feel the Pain," "Freak Scene" and the Cure's "Just Like Heaven." Not everyone in attendance could handle the band's ferocious guitar theatrics, with most of the older concertgoers relegating themselves to their beach blankets for some pre-Iggy Pop rest (including one individual who could be seen reaching for a bottle of extra strength Advil as the band jumped into an impromptu Deep Wound cover.)
Things got a bit more lighthearted midway through the day, as San Diego bebop enthusiasts Rocket from the Crypt performed one of their first Canadian dates in a while. Following an impromptu medley in which lead-singer John Reis repeatedly antagonized the crowd by asking them if they liked rock'n'roll (and strangely enough, shrimp cocktail), the bare bones rock outfit played through a horn-heavy set exploring their entire back catalogue, including career-defining single "On a Rope." But after awhile, it felt like Reis was engaging with more stage banter than actual singing, as he discussed the war of 1812, feeling horny, shrimp cocktails (again) and how to give festivalgoers the best back rub.
Putting a further dampen on the evening was a poorly-chosen slot from the Weakerthans, whose brand of Canadian heartstrings-rock seemed better suited for a club than an outdoor event of this magnitude. Nevertheless, John K. Samson and co. did their best, opening up the set with crowd pleaser "One Great City!" and playing renditions of "Aside," "The Reasons," and "Left and Leaving."
But nothing could prepare the crowd for Iggy & the Stooges, who took the stage as the sun set for their lone Canadian date of the year. Sixty-six years young and looking as if barely a day had gone by since his debut LP, the nubile Iggy Pop immediately began to dance around shirtless on stage as the band kicked into the classics. Stirring the crowd into a frenzy with set opener "Raw Power," the Stooges quickly murdered the day's competition with near-perfect renditions of "Gimme Danger," "Gun," "1970" and "Search and Destroy." Inviting a sizeable chunk of the crowd to jump on stage and dance with their idol, the band progressed into a jamm-y version of "Fun House" (complete with bassist Mike Watt humping his monitor over and over again to the song's final climax) followed by hits like "I Wanna Be Your Dog," "No Fun" and Lust for Life solo-standout "The Passenger." Annihilating the remaining seconds of their set with a fuzzed-out "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell," the band ripped through "Sex and Money" from this year's Ready to Die LP, before leaving the stage as Iggy stood behind, pounding his chest like an erotic orangutan.
As those in attendance went for one last beer run or washroom break, it was hard to imagine any other act playing as well as the Stooges. But as the Replacements took the stage for their first show in over two decades to deep-throated screams of adoration, it was clear see the band was ready for the challenge.
Stepping to the mic in a checkered jacket and button up shirt, a visibly drunk Paul Westerberg jokingly apologized for the band's 22-year silence by blaming it on a wardrobe debate and asked if it would be all right to play some old songs. Starting things off with a super-charged rendition of Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take out the Trash's "Takin' a Ride," the band launched into a hard rocking performance drenched in nostalgia that crossed the band's entire back catalogue. Whether it be their debut LP's "I'm in Trouble," Let it Be's "Favorite Thing," or Hootenanny's "Color Me Impressed," it seemed like everyone's favorite Replacements song got its time in the spotlight. And although the night's preceding act seemed as tight as can be, it was hard to argue against the tight-knit crew assembled for the night, as longtime session musician Josh Freese wailed on the drum kit in perfect sync with Tommy Stinson's refined bass playing, while lead-guitarist David Minehan filled the gaps perfectly in between Westerberg's disjointed and often forgetful guitar noodling.
But with only an hour and fifteen minutes to play their reunion set, the band sped things up after an energetic cover of Sham 69's "Borstal Breakout," delivering some of the biggest hits of their short career with "Little Mascara," "Left of the Dial" and "Alex Chilton," followed by "Swingin' Party," "Can't Hardly Wait," and a guttural "Bastards of Young" to close out the initial set.
Returning to the stage wearing a weirdly misplaced Georges Laraque jersey for their final encore, the band played a dialed-down version of Songs for Slim's "Everything's Coming Up Roses" before ramping up for one last hurrah with a scorching "I.O.U."
As Westerberg sloppily stumbled away from the stage as a gigantic light display in the shape of a middle finger shone out to the thousands in attendance, it was hard to imagine a better performance from the defining alternative rock act.
Check out our gallery of photos from Riot Fest 2013 here.
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