by Sir John Reid Hatchporch
Weezer is one of the finest rock bands the world has seen in the last ten years. Unfortunately, they are also one of the laziest and most inauspicious, and it’s a wonder that their fan base has managed to stay so strong - and in fact has apparently multiplied – over the years. With the band plagued by setbacks, indecision, ennui, general disorganization, bass player Matt Sharp’s departure, frontman Rivers Cuomo’s health problems and college career and the deaths of the heads of their fan club, faithful fans have had to sit back and watch with baited breath, for five years now, hoping for something new from the band. It was to be expected then that when the almighty kings of power pop geek rock embarked on their recent tour, sponsored by Yahoo! Outloud, it was truly an event…and one that had been anticipated for quite some time. The tour capped off on the 18th with a rocking – yet oddly rather low key – show at the RIMAC Arena in San Diego.
The RIMAC is essentially a big gymansium and is a good venue for "arena rock" bands like Weezer to play in. (I saw Beck there in April of last year, and while that was a good show, the venue seemed a little silly for him.) When we got in, the place was packed with people, some in the bleachers but most of whom were seated on the gym floor. We grabbed a spot near the back – near the bleachers – and sat down, knowing that in a few minutes time the crowd would be standing and would probably shrink down to half the size. I was proudly wearing the t-shirt I had snagged from the last time I saw Weezer, which was four years ago at the excellent and touching benefit for Mykel, Carli and Trysta Allan. (Curiously, I didn't see anyone else wearing one of these shirts).
The opening bands Ozma and The Get Up Kids when combining forces with Weezer make for what could have been dubbed Geekfest 2001 (which is by no means a perjorative term, by the way...these are my people). Both Ozma and The Get Up Kids delivered passable and at times very good sets, but everyone in the audience was quite visibly restless to see the Weez.
When Ozma came out on stage, the most noteworthy aspect of the band was probably the eccentric bass player’s ‘80s wraparound glasses and the female synth player (who would become a bit of an annoyance later on). Ozma delivered a nice set full of hooks and dripping with great synthesizer lines. The synth player was very good, though at times not looking at all like she fit in with the rest of the band, staring off stage or wearing a big incongruous smile while the rest of the band rocked. The highlight of Ozma’s set was probably their rollicking rendition of the theme from the video game Tetris. It took some people a while to catch on to what the song was, but when they did the entire audience was jumping around and laughing.
Perhaps the most entertaining pre-Weezer parts of the show – at least in this reviewer’s opinion – came between the sets, when we were treated to a number of very cool songs, which I can only imagine were hand chosen by the bands themselves. After Ozma’s set, the monitors blared a host of old punk, proto-punk and new wave numbers that I couldn't help but sing and pogo along to…Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life,” The Knack's "My Sharona," The Ramones' "Rock 'N' Roll High School," Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” The Buzzcocks’ “Just Lust,” The Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac,” X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage! Up Yours,” and Sham 69’s “If The Kids Are United,” which made for a sly irony when the crowd started violently pushing forward before anyone had even come out on stage!
The Get Up Kids turned out a loud (at times painfully so) set plagued by technical problems. During the band’s excellent single and trademark song “Action & Action,” the frontman’s guitar went out, and he struggled to remedy this for the next two or three songs with a roadie, but still looked rather jaded. Again, the synth player was particularly noteworthy…this one was a thin gangly male with unkempt black hair, clad in a "Beat It" t-shirt, who was planted at stage left and for some reason faced off stage the entire time. Though he was brimming with personality and verve – and at times looked as if he wouldn’t have been out of place playing with Nine Inch Nails – his lines were for the most part buried in the mix of very loud distorted guitars. (His synth was most audible in "Action & Action"). However, his antics are what stole the show – standing on top of the keyboard, standing back from it and slamming his hands on it to play the riffs, jumping up and down, and even capping off the set by setting his synth on fire (John Hiatt needs to write a song about smashing a perfectly good synthesizer). Another highlight of the Kids’ set was a rather earnest cover of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.”
After The Get Up Kids, a ragged tape played that I assume was made by the band members of Weezer, since it was predominantly old glam rock and hard rock tunes, some of which were definitely culled from vinyl! The audibly chewed up cassette provided the strains of songs like AC/DC’s "Highway To Hell," Van Halen’s "Hot For Teacher," and the highlight of the pre-Weezer festivities, Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody," definitely from scratchy vinyl. This one had the entire hall singing along – myself included – with lighters abounding. And by the time we got to the rocking guitar part near the end, everyone in the arena was banging their heads. One person to my right made a comment that it was the perfect song to play before Weezer came out. It surely was a moment of beauty and, dare I say it, unity.
The lights came down and remained so for about a minute before Weezer actually took to the stage. When the lights came up the audience was actually rather subdued, for the guys were seated on stage in a sort of tableau formation. Brian Bell was seated on the left side of the stage behind a keyboard, while Rivers and new bass player Mikey Welsh (formerly of the Julianna Hatfield Three) - looking dapper in a tie - were seated on the right side. Pat Wilson was absent at this time. As Brian played the mellow, slow strains of a brand new song (EDITOR'S NOTE: the song is called "I Do," and was written by Rivers during sessions for the "green album"), Rivers sat, clad in his tight black jacket and hornrimmed glasses, stoicly singing along. A bizarre opening to a Weezer show, to be sure. Also noticeable were two basketball backboards at the top of either side of the stage. When the song was finished, Pat came out, the boys stood up and the familiar opening strains of "My Name Is Jonas" came from the stage, to the great delight of the crowd. Once the hard pounding power chords of the songs began, the crowd started pushing to the front, creating a virtual ocean of people in which it was very difficult to get one’s bearings. I knew (or hoped, rather) that crowd-pushing is a phase that only lasts a few minutes, so I tried to stand my ground and go with the flow, all the while trying to sing along.
The next song up was the wonderful "El Scorcho," and by this time everyone in the entire place was singing along (which is particularly liberating on the opening line "GOD DAMN you half Japanese girls!"). Right from the beginning, it was obvious that this show was going to be a somewhat straight forward one, with the guys pretty much standing still the whole time, and Rivers uttering next to nothing between songs ("here’s another song"). In this respect, the show was very similar to an Oasis show I saw last year, which was pretty much just all out rock and roll. Perhaps one reason for the band’s rather subdued nature is the absence of former bassist Matt Sharp, who contributed a lot of character to the shows, and usually did most of the talking. (For details on his rowdy antics, see our review of the Mykel, Carli and Trysta Allan benefit). This isn't meant to be a slight on new bassist Mikey Welsh...he proceded to do a great job all night, filling in the hole as best as he could (and contributing some slick fashion sense to the group).
They next launched into the excellent b-side "You Gave Your Love To Me Softly," which I noticed a lot of people apparently weren’t familiar with – this however didn’t stop me from singing along and pogoing like an idiot. By this time the crowd was starting to tame itself and the band launched into "The Good Life," which had everyone singing along and pogoing. It was now clear that the basketball backboards were actually projection screens, and for this number we were treated to a computer graphic of a spinning record with the Weezer logo, interspersed with closeup shots of the band. It was rather refreshing to see material from their excellent second album "Pinkerton" being enjoyed so much by the crowd, since this album is rather maligned by just about everyone (and wrongfully so, I might add, since it’s arguably better than the first album).
One of the most striking things about tonight’s performance right from the getgo is the crispness and clarity of Rivers’ voice. His voice sounds purer and cooler than ever before, with just a bit of a happy chirp to it. Ironic that the band had been on tour for nearly a month by this point.
Next up was a real surprise: the slow, powerful "The Christmas Song," which was released last December on the annual KROQ Christmas CD, as well as a very rare radio station promo. This time the projection screens showed very silly shots of someone dressed up as Santa on someone’s roof (I assume it was Pat), and then the entire group dressed up as Santas out in the woods somewhere. (Brian was of particular note in the video, doing a little wiggly seductive dance in slow motion). It soon became clear that these images on the screens were part of a sort of self-mocking theme that would be evident throughout the entire night. Weezer has always been one to mock rock excesses whilst also indulging in them (their big flashing =w= logo, macho glam rock guitar poses), and some of the images on the screens seemed, to me at least, to be a sly self-deprecating commentary on their recent “selling out” by joining up with Yahoo! for the tour. Hence the t-shirts they were selling in the lobby: "Corporate Sell-Out Tour 2001." But more importantly, the video screen images - for the most part - showed Weezer lacking any self-consciousness about their image (read: unabashed nerdiness), which has always been one of the most endearing aspects of the band (more on that later).
(In Weezer’s defense of being called "sell outs": they were smart for going with a "big corporate" entity like Yahoo! Outloud when booking this tour Since the band has been effectively on hiatus for four years, and with the last full length record having been released *five* years ago, the band needed to market themselves in the best way possible while also making it easy and worthwhile for fans to be able to see them on tour. The tickets were cheap – a mere $10 for three bands – and were also commemorative. All of these shows sold out extremely quickly and with any luck will be an essential catalyst for selling mass quantities of their forthcoming album...and rightfully so.)
Next up was a trilogy of three brand new songs, for which the crowd stood in pretty much reverential silence. Very little jumping or dancing, and no singing. First up was "Don’t Let Go," which was perhaps the most forgettable of the three. "Island In The Sun" sported a very beautiful, dour melody and minor chords, but with a rocking beat. And the third song was the excellent "Hash Pipe," which showed Weezer treading some new ground. The rhythm section was bubbly and aggressive, almost fitting in with the recent sounds of alternative radio, while Rivers’ vocal was hinged on a very high falsetto line. There has been talk that this will be the first single from the forthcoming album, and I think it would be an excellent choice, as it fits in nicely with modern popular alternative while still managing to sound different and, most importantly, uniquely Weezer.
Rivers says "that was some new bullshit. Now we’re gonna do some more old stuff," which is greeted with cheering from the crowd. The opening strains of "In The Garage" start up, and the crowd goes wild. This song has been treated to a subtly new arrangement, with some extended moments between verses that work very nicely. During the verses, Rivers is drowned in a red light, and the closeups on the projection screens make him look downright evil. Very cool effect. After this Rivers doffs his black jacket and reveals his cardigan sweater underneath, not looking too dissimilar to the one he wore in the "Buddy Holly" video. The next song is another surprise, the exhortative, confessional "Tired Of Sex," which is rather eerily accompanied by projections of drawings of people in sexual positions, some of which look like they were culled from the Kama Sutra.
Next up is the fan favorite "Say It Ain’t So," which was performed beautifully and had everyone singing along. After this Pat starts tapping out a galloping rhythm on the drums and the guys start playing power chords…the familiar F-G-Ab of "Buddy Holly." This song was treated to a new arrangement which was very effective…the prolonged leadup at the beginning only made it all the more satisfying once the boys launched in to the song proper. And once they did, the crowd responded wildly…possibly the most enthusiastic reaction of the night thus far. This time the screens showed a flaming =w=, and the famous huge =w= made of flashing light bulbs was lowered…always a crowning moment at any Weezer show. The crowd’s favorite musical moment seemed to be in the bridge ("bang, bang, knock on the door…"), where everyone was jumping up and down and singing along.
Throughout the set, certain sects of the audience occasionally indulged in the mindboggling pasttime of throwing materials at the stage, such as shoes and something that appeared to be a jumper of some kind, and by the end of the first set Pat started tossing some materials of his own out into the audience (it wasn’t clear what these were), most of which weren’t very aerodynamic and didn’t manage to go past the stage. At one point Rivers was nearly hit by an errant shoe that was catapulted in from the audience, which probably did not help his already apparently sullen mood.
After this, Pat pounded out the slow, familiar drum startup of "Undone - The Sweater Song," which also got a great reaction from the crowd (though seven years later, I'd have to say it’s one of their weaker songs, especially the lyrical gobbledygook). During the spoken word parts, the screens show footage of apparently the crowd at the RIMAC milling about in the lobby, just before the show, which, when paired with the spoken word ad-libbing, makes for a neat effect. One guy in the audience is sitting on another guy’s shoulders and holds up a tattered sweater through the duration of the song…pretty funny. After this Rivers says "we’ve got one more song for you" (though they always do an encore) and they launch into a great but rather slow version of "Why Bother?" After this the band briskly left the stage.
After what seemed like five minutes of the crowd chanting "Weezer!", the band – sans Rivers – came back out on stage. Mikey took this oppportunity to make a little announcement: "we’d just like to say we love you all very much," and then proceeded to play the lugubrious opening bass notes of the emotional "Only In Dreams," which also got a great reaction from the audience. The band vamped for a bit and after a while Rivers made his way back onto the stage. This is one song I’m content to just hug myself and listen to while very softly singing along, since it resonates very deeply with me for some reason. When Rivers sings "ask her to dance," the disco ball on the ceiling is lowered, which makes for a funny and touching sort of cinematic effect, as if we're watching a video…sort of a picture perfect moment. For the incredible end section, which begins with bass and drums and then slowly winds up with some beautiful guitar work and ends up all out rocking, Mikey went to the back of the stage and stood on the drum riser, facing Pat. This made for a very nice effect while the stage went dark blue and Brian and Rivers wove their exquisite guitar parts together. A very beautiful song which was very nicely executed – anytime I hear it I just want to weep. But the one gripe I have about this performance is the images they had displayed on the screens, which I can only hope were again part of the self-mocking motif. For the majority of the song, a silhouette of a crane flying in slow motion was shown on the screens, interspersed with hazy shots of the band which were dissolved in and out. As emotional as the song is, I almost had to keep myself from chuckling at the bizarre image.
Right after this it's the definitive closer "Surf Wax America." This one had everyone pogoing and singing along. And I couldn’t help myself from inserting the infamous "smoke dope!" line in the quiet part, right after Rivers sings "all along the undertow is strengthening its hold" (some anonymous voice utters this to great comic effect on the live recording of "Surf Wax America," which appeared on the "Buddy Holly" EP). At one point, a myriad of red confetti dropped down from the ceiling, which was a neat way to commemorate the end of the tour. And tonight, instead of screaming "let’s go!" before the four on the floor ending, Rivers makes some funny, voice-breaking "ahhh-uh-ahhh" noise. At the end Mikey tosses his bass haphazardly and a roadie at the back of the stage catches it, and the guys say goodnight and place their guitars up against their amps, which closes the festivities with a wall of feedback.
All in all Weezer put on a great – albeit low key – show, but not as good as the Allan family benefit I saw in 1997 (though to be fair, that was one of those one in a million type situations). To corroborate something my friend Megan said – who saw them recently in Florida – "I wanted more." Weezer played for a little over and hour, and showcased most of their "hits" as well as a few very promising new numbers, but ultimately I felt like I needed more. And the guys were surprisingly pretty subdued, most notably Rivers. One thing I had been looking forward to is what kind of rock theatrics the guys would pull out (jumping around, silly posturing and such) but I didn't really see any of that.
Part of that "more" my friend and I crave is most likely a new album. I’ve been a Weezer fan since 1994, when I saw the "world premiere" of "Undone – The Sweater Song" on MTV. I quickly bought the debut album, as well as "Pinkerton" the day it came out and managed to hunt down every one of their EPs (which all have very tantalizing b-sides). I’ve sat by and watched as the band has gone through a number of ups and downs over the years, and at times it even looked as if the band was over for good. Thank god the guys finally buckled down at the end of last year and recorded a brand new album, start to finish, once again produced by Cars’ frontman Ric Ocasek (the man behind Weezer’s debut album). The album is slated to be released on May 15th – fingers crossed – and will have fans the world over breathing a sigh of relief. Not only is the world clamoring for it, but the music scene needs it. Weezer brought a unique brand of rock to the forefront in 1994 and inspired a small movement of what I would deem "nerd rockers" (again, not a perjorative term)…a movement totally lacking in self-consciousness, which seemed to dissolve all too quickly. In a time when music is taking itself too seriously – again – Weezer could very well be the rock messiahs we’ve all been waiting for. Weezer’s second coming is a welcome one.
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