[caption id="attachment_16140" align="alignnone" width="445" caption="Weezer at Aragon 2011 | Photo by Mike Smails"]
Picture a band on the mountainous stage situated in Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, and the lead singer is jumping all over the place and causing a ruckus, hopping into the crowd and kicking and punching the air. Years ago, nobody would have believed that this was Rivers Cuomo, the frontman of alternative rock group Weezer. But once hearing the lyrics and the crunchy guitar tones, they would realize that it had all the trademarks of the band’s iconic sound.
Cuomo seemed dead-set on proving his band’s iconic status in the two day residency held in Chicago last weekend. While he may sing “I’mma do the things that I wanna do, I ain’t gotta thing to prove to you” and “I don’t care” repeated ad nauseam,” (Pork and Beans from the 2008 release The Red Album
) it’s hard to believe him, a man shouting, “I don’t give a hoot about what you think,” in the midst of a tour that seems intent on pleasing every one of his diehard, insatiable fanbase.
Weezer is currently finishing a run of shows called The Memories Tour. It was a short, intimate affair, only hitting big markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and finally Chicago. The appeal of these two-night stands is that the first night would feature The Blue Album
(the band’s earnest 1994 debut) played in full, and Night Two would feature Pinkerton
(its critically lauded, then beloved ‘Sophomore Slump’ from 1996). In addition, Cuomo, who has become known in recent years for being too energetic to even stay on stage, let alone behind a guitar, would be donning the axe for both albums (minus one song, but we’ll get to that later). This meant that the audience would be treated to tunes that the band hasn’t played since 2002 (or since 1995 in the case of “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here”) with the ‘classic’ line-up of the band. Patrick Wilson would trade his newly found guitarist role to return to behind the drums.
The hardest part about this tour wasn’t going to be learning the songs, but living up to the intense hype. Tours this special can fall victim to fan speculation and expectation and collapse in on themselves, never really living up to anyone’s hopes. On Night One, it looked as if this might be the case for the Memories tour.
The band started up the Weezer time machine Friday night, with opening song, “Memories” from 2010’s Hurley
record. This song fired up the ignition perfectly, and was followed by “If You’re Wondering…” from 2009’s maligned Raditude
. The show started energetically, but things came to a halt with the unusually tepid Troublemaker from 2008’s Red Album
. Even when the band played the lesser hits “Keep Fishin’” and “Photograph,” it still felt as if they were going through the motions. As Cuomo dashed around the upper balcony, one wouldn’t be surprised to catch him checking his watch to see when he could sing “My Name is Jonas” already.
[caption id="attachment_16142" align="alignnone" width="445" caption="Weezer guitarist Brian Bell | Photo by Mike Smails"]
The band played one final hit (Pinkerton
’s “Falling For You…” wait, what? Sometimes the greatest hits set title was a misnomer. More on that in night two.) and got off the stage to let the dust settle. But something completely unexpected happened. Cuomo remained to slowly and methodically tilt up the trampoline, (both a symbol of and a conduit to his insane stage moves as of late), drag it across the stage and then brought it backstage with him and the band. It was as if he was saying “Alright, enough of this goofing around. It’s time to rock.”
And after an informative slideshow by Karl, the band’s trusted roadie, webmaster and friend, rock is all that was served in front of a simple Blue backdrop. As they played the famed LP, Cuomo submerged himself in each line of songs like “The World Has Turned…” and “In The Garage,” shimmied arrhythmically whilst playing each of the album’s solos and didn’t try to jump up and down once. The dichotomy of the ferocious rock and the docile Cuomo made this the most exciting part of the entire night in spite of the lack of trampo-leaps. As the four-piece finished “Holiday,” it became clear that something special was taking place for the band as well as the audience, a famously rare synchronicity that rock stars dream about.
Night two began with even more ambition,fumes of last night’s performance still lingering in the air. The set took a turn for the unstoppable when the band unleashed the new-age 2008 Weezer classic “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived.” Any set that includes a song that shifts genres and tempos about 8 times in its run (and includes choral vocal harmonies) is striving to do more than just entertain. Cuomo rocked the guitar for “Perfect Situation,” and “Dope Nose”, showing lots of emotion and restraint on the former and vociferous hopping and pointing on the latter.
After a ferocious run-through of “Hash Pipe,” it was time for a holy triumvirate of classic B-sides. Er, wait... B-sides? But I thought this setlist was for hits? Oh, does it even matter? Seeing Cuomo treat the usually ignored “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly,” “Suzanne” and “Jamie” with the same amount of passion and energy as his chart toppers was inspiring and completely unprecedented. Also unprecedented: the crowd was far more excited for these 3 songs than they were for “Beverly Hills” on the previous night.
[caption id="attachment_16143" align="alignnone" width="445" caption="Rivers Cuomo shredding it up | Photo by Mike Smails"]
As for the elephant in the room, yes, every song on Pinkerton was played and, yes, they sounded just as good as ever. The band looked virtually indistinguishable from any Pinkerton era video you’ll find online aside from Brian looking a bit more stylish and the band’s current bassist being Scott Shriner (though he’s actually been their longest-running one, played on the most albums, and completely kicked butt on both shows). Any expectation a fan would have of a Pinkerton performance was met tonight (aside from “Why Bother” being played unusually slow). Tired of Sex was indeed as anthemic as “Getchoo” was thick and heavy. “No Other One” and “Across The Sea” hit the audience in a powerful wave of emotional realization and “El Scorcho” was a gigantic sing-along number.
But the most powerful moment of both shows came during the song “Falling For You.” Rivers Cuomo once again defied expectations by taking off his guitar during a Pinkerton
song. A song which has always been associated with his phenomenal fretwork. The craziest thing about it was that the gambit actually worked. Cuomo stood there, vulnerable and exposed as he sang “I’ve got a number of irrational fears that I’d like to share with you.” He had nothing to hide behind anymore, and was wearing his heart on his sleeve to every soul in the venue. By the time the song had reached its bridge, the whole audience was singing along. Hearing some 2,000 ardent fans scream “Holy sweet God damn, you left your cello in the basement” as Rivers’ body convulsed and his eyes shimmered with emotion made it known that this wasn’t just a concert anymore. It had become a climactic, bittersweet and thrilling ride.
When Cuomo stood alone, strumming his acoustic on the downbeat tearjerker “Butterfly,” the crowd became deathly and respectfully silent. Looking around, it became clear that Rivers Cuomo was finally seeing the audience he had hoped to see when the album came out back in 1996. As grown men cried and women swooned, Rivers finished the ballad’s infamous last words (“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”) and lifted his homely guitar above his head with pride. With that, the Weezer time machine brought us back to January 8, 2011, but Cuomo was finally getting the rapturous applause and vindication he so yearned for in 1996. The beaming smile on his face as he surveyed the jubilant crowd showed a keen sense of realization: no apologies needed.