Friday, August 30, 2013

Toronto, Part 1: Rock 'n' Roll

Just returned from six days in Toronto, a city I'd never been to before, as part of my ongoing quest to see all 30 MLB teams play in their current homes. I chose an August Blue Jays/Yankees series, mainly so I could see Ichiro. Shortly after booking the trip -- holy shit! -- the Replacements announced they'd play their first show in 22 years, in Toronto, the very day I'd be traveling there! So, for $200, I moved my flight up a day and got myself a concert ticket. Altogether a bit costly, but the Riot Fest would also include supporting acts Iggy and the Stooges, Dinosaur Jr., Rocket from the Crypt and Best Coast. I don't like big, daylong, outdoor festivals, what with the crowds, the elements, lots of waiting around, the abbreviated sets, and so forth. But still!

Here are some shitty iPhone pics along with my take on the various sets...

Best Coast (above) was okay -- I really dig their albums, but after seeing them in Seattle last year, I didn't feel the need to ever see 'em again.

I also saw Dinosaur once before, in 1993, without Lou Barlow. It was great to finally catch their original lineup in action. They played a solid career-spanning set, though I wish it included “Little Furry Things.” I wore earplugs.

Also in ’93 was the only previous time I’d seen Rocket from the Crypt, in their hometown of San Diego where I was living at the time. They’re the kind of band I tried getting into but never really could, and their Toronto set didn’t change that. Though I did appreciate that they played “Born in ’69,” because I was.

The earplugs went back in for Iggy and company. I’d seen Iggy solo a couple times in the ‘90s, and then in the reformed Stooges in 2005, with brothers Ron and Scott Asheton, plus Mike Watt on bass. Ron has since died, and due to a stroke, Scott was replaced by some guy named Toby Dammit on drums. Watt still played with them, along Funhouse-era saxman Steve Mackay. Best of all, Raw Power-era guitarist James Williamson was in the lineup, killing it on the title track, “Search and Destroy,” “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell,” plus some tunes from the Iggy/ Williamson album Kill City. My favorite song of the set, which I never expected to hear, was “Cock in My Pocket.” On the other hand, they wasted precious time with three relative stinkers from their mediocre new album.

Honestly though, while all those other bands played, I was looking ahead in anticipation of the Replacements.

Finally, the 'Mats took the stage right on time for a kickass 23-song, 75-minute set. Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson were the only original members -- Josh Freese (who I’d last seen as Devo’s drummer in 2011) replaced Chris Mars, and some other guy filled in for guitarist Slim Dunlap (who, like Scott Asheton, also suffered a debilitating stroke). For those keeping score, Dunlap replaced original member Bob Stinson, Tommy's older brother, who was kicked out of the band in 1986 and died nine years later.

Well what about the tunes? They opened with "Takin' a Ride," covered Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” and Sham 69’s “Borstal Breakout," and played three songs from my favorite-ever album Pleased to Meet Me, including album opener/show closer “I.O.U.” (Before the song, Paul said that he once asked Iggy Pop for an autograph, and Iggy wrote down what became the song’s chorus: “I.O.U. nothing.”) Plus lots of other faves: "Color Me Impressed," "I Will Dare," "Bastards of Young," etc. For the encore, Paul came out wearing a Montreal Canadiens sweater, getting some good-natured boos from the Toronto crowd. Two songs later and they were gone, leaving me thrilled by what I just witnessed.

But that wasn't the end of it. By coincidence, the next morning I took a shortcut through the lobby of the Royal York Hotel on my way to the Hockey Hall of Fame, only to discover Tommy Stinson waiting around with his bags, looking like he just checked out. I went up to him and said, “Hey, Tommy, great show last night!” He thanked me, we shook hands, and he agreed to a photo...

Cool! Then he walked outside. I sat for a minute, and it occurred to me that Paul must be nearby, so I went outside too. Sure enough, there he was with Tommy and some roadies, looking like they were all waiting for a lift to the airport. I repeated the scene with Paul: great show, handshake, photo...

I added that I got choked up the when they played “Alex Chilton” the previous night, seeing as how Paul's idol died in 2010. During the song, I noticed Paul glimpse skyward as he sang the line “If he died in Memphis, wouldn’t that be cool?”, though Chilton actually died in New Orleans. (Paul's touching New York Times memorial to Alex appeared shortly afterward.) Then, as a sort of tossed-off "see ya," I wished Paul good luck, and continued on to the Hall of Fame. It quickly occurred to me that it was kinda like the line in "Alex Chilton" where Paul describes his first meeting with Alex in New York: "Feeling like a million bucks, exchanging good lucks, face to face." Maybe it was a subconscious thing on my part.

Anyway, my Toronto trip peaked early, but the rest of it was good too. I'll post the other highlights soon.
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