“How young are you, how old am I?” That’s how the Replacements classic “I Will Dare” begins, and when the band played it near the end of a 19-song, hourlong set on the Samsung Galaxy stage nearing sundown on Sunday at ACL Fest, it seemed to sum up the reality of this 1980s underground-rock archetype playing a music festival in 2014 alongside electronica and hip-hop headliners.
For those who were that old, the show was everything the Replacements’ performances at previous festivals this summer had suggested it would be: terrifically tight yet entirely fun, and packed with probably three times more tunes that will last for the ages than any other act at the festival this year.
Suspected massive crowds never really materialized, which speaks to the “how young are you” element of ACL’s audience. Not that it mattered much. Original members Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson were in fine form on guitar and bass, respectively, with touring members Dave Minehan on guitar and Josh Freese on drums filling their roles perfectly in rendering the Replacements as a left-of-center rock powerhouse that’s now more right than ragged.
Opening on a high note with “You’re My Favorite Thing,” they blazed through crowd favorites such as “I’ll Be You,” “Valentine” and “Waitress in the Sky” early, but also reached back to their first record for the likes of “Takin’ a Ride” as well. Tunes from 1984’s “Let It Be” may have resonated most with the fans, especially the quieter but pointed “Androgynous” and the aforementioned “I Will Dare.”
Blazing through mostly three-minute songs with no nonsense and a clear focus, the Replacements felt like a very necessary part of American music in an age when the Ramones are all gone. Whether their reunion sticks for the long term remains to be seen — and seems unlikely — but they were a welcome element at ACL, much more than a mere artifact.
After they wrapped up with a bang on “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Bastards of Young,” “Left of the Dial” and “Alex Chilton,” happy faces gradually filed away from the stage as a crush of new festgoers pushed in for their spots before Pearl Jam’s set. The small irony: Even Pearl Jam probably can’t quite wrap their heads around the fact that the Replacements just opened for them. Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder would later say, “It means a lot to everybody up here to be on the same stage as the irreplaceable Replacements.”