I’m in love with that song

South Minneapolis (and beyond) heroes Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg rock RiotFest in Toronto Sunday night during The Replacements’ first live show in 23 years. Credit: Photo by Tony Nelson

On the night of July 2, 1980, my band REMs finished up a short and sweaty practice at the old Podany furniture building on 27th and Lake Street, then we piled into our cars and headed down to the Longhorn Bar to hear my old high school friend Chris Mars’s new band, The Replacements, who were playing their first bar gig that night, opening for The Dads in downtown Minneapolis. We snuck a couple of our under-age guys in the back door of the club, and our 16-year-old drummer Rick Ness brought along his cassette tape recorder and documented the whole thing on a single 45-minute side of oxide.

Not bad, as artifacts go. Monday afternoon, after gorging on all the photos, videos, and great writing coming out of Toronto’s RiotFest courtesy of all my old and new media friends who were lucky enough to attend the now-Marsless ‘Mats first show in 23 years (family and financial obligations kept me away; looking forward to the next scheduled show, Sept. 15 in Chicago), I thought about that 33-year-old tape, which is basically the first bootleg of one of the most bootlegged rock bands of all time, and ruminated on how those songs that blasted out into the world this week originated and germinated in the streets, lakes, homes and bars of South Minneapolis.

All day Monday and into the week, dozens of photos, videos and recordings bounced around the Internet, making The Replacements at this moment more popular than ever — their heyday, if you will. Their brilliant and passionate performance in Toronto took place at virtually the same time as the musically irrelevant MTV Awards were groaning away in New York, and anyone who came across the ‘Mats’ 75-minute dose of thunder via the numerous download and streaming opportunities bore witness to what so many of us have been blabbing about for most of our lives.

“Magic. That’s what it was, pure and simple,” is how the Star Tribune’s Chris Riemenschneider nailed it, and luckily some of the magic spread back home, and the lot of us were joined in a way that felt not unlike Jan. 18, 1986, the night The Replacements performed on “Saturday Night Live.” Tellingly and poetically, the promotional poster for the Toronto show depicts an old analog stereo receiver with a glowing left-of-the-dial “Replacements,” and for sure the ‘Mats antenna beamed bright and strong Sunday night, sending out shots of hope and excitement over the promise of more great nights of music to come.

And the world could stand some more Replacements in it, for as anyone who has attended the annual ‘Mats tribute shows at First Avenue and 7th St. Entry can attest, those songs roar and soar on their own power, and the experience of listening with a bunch of others to all those classics that are normally ingested alone is routinely often nothing short of transcendent.

Speaking of old tapes, I recently unearthed a Jan. 30, 1981 WMCN (Macalester College) interview with the founding four members of the band, which finds the college deejay noting how much fun it looks like they have playing, and wondering about the attention and compensation they’re receiving after one year as a band.

“How long can you guys keep playing for fun?,” he asks.

“As long as… until we die. Until we die,” says 15-year-old Tommy Stinson.

“It’s gonna be fun forever, I think,” says 19-year-old Paul Westerberg. “Ten years, 20, 25…”

“We’re still trying to have fun [now], though,” says Tommy.

Sure sounds like it was fun Sunday night in Toronto; see ya in the Windy City.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected] and www.jimwalshmpls.com His coffee table book (with Dennis Pernu), “The Replacements: Waxed Up Hair and Painted Shoes: The Photographic History” is available Nov. 15 through Voyageur Press/MBI Publishing.