Minnesota college rock legends The Replacements began their reunion slowly. In 2013, the band performed their first sets in 22 years at all three Riot Fests, before playing Coachella in 2014, and ultimately, a full-blown tour in 2015. As someone who saw a couple of the performances, it was everything a fan could hope for, with the band mixing in their hits and their deep cuts for one of the most satisfying runs in recent memory.
At each performance, bandleader Paul Westerberg wore white t-shirts with single letters scrawled across the front and the back, changing with each concert. By the time the tour was concluded, those letters spelled out a sobering message: “I have always loved you. Now I must whore my past.”
A few years later, this idea still stings. While fans enjoyed the rare opportunity to hear these formative songs live, especially those that were too young to see The Replacements in their original state in the 1980s, it was a reminder that there was a reason that the band didn’t tour for those 22 years. And, it was also a reminder of why bands are often forced to return, less out of greed and more out of pure survival.
Of course, many reunions are more nuanced than just the desire, or need, for money. Whether it was Pavement’s mighty 2010 return that seemed like an act of pure generosity from bandleader Stephen Malkmus that went against every fiber of his being or the quick reboot of LCD Soundsystem that found the group regretting ever calling it quits in the first place, there are elements like crowd-pleasing or even new creative endeavors at play. There is no black or white, wrong or right way to do things, with reunions ultimately bound to upset some people along the way. But still, there remain a few beloved entities that seem like they “get it” a little better than others.
On Saturday night at Cal Jam, one of the most feverishly desired but deeply complicated reunions in popular music occurred in perhaps the only way it could. Nirvana, a band that ended in 1994 with the death of songwriter Kurt Cobain, found their members coming together for a rare performance of Nirvana songs. It wasn’t the first time that this had happened — the band famously performed as the same incarnation around its Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2014, had played backing band to Paul McCartney, and have been known to jam on non-Nirvana tunes when its members happened to be in the same place at the same time — but it was the first time that rumors circulated ahead of time that it could occur and that a massive, ticket-buying audience would get to witness it.