More Than Just Geek
dmonton. City of champions,” Weezer head honcho Rivers Cuomo said in sandpaper-dry fashion as he and his bandmates took the stage at the Northlands AgriCom, a sarcastic nod to the city’s somewhat embarrassing self-appointed title dating back to Wayne Gretzky’s days in the Alberta capital during the 1980s. Cuomo, known for his somewhat prickly onstage demeanor, looked less than enthused to be playing. “We came here to smack some butts, so assume the position,” he unenthusiastically declared, sounding about as menacing as Eddie Deezen on downers. That geeky façade of Weezer, though, is just a ruse. They came to town to rock our worlds, pure and simple, and on this unseasonably frigid April night, in front of just over 3,000 fans in an odd, cozy arena that looked (and sounded) like a rectangular concrete warehouse, they succeeded on every level.
Opening band am radio started the evening off with a brief set, playing catchy, hook-laden tunes that sounded more Britpop than emo. Their singer admitted this was the biggest audience they had faced to date, and the band looked a bit out of place, with only the singer showing enthusiasm while the four others put in workmanlike efforts, sticking to their spots on the stage.
Los Angeles’ Pete Yorn, the cool guy singer-songwriter of the moment (thanks in part to Winona Ryder and a whole lotta hype), was an interesting choice as opening act for Weezer. His music from his excellent album musicforthemorningafter is just as introspective as Weezer’s, but his style is a bit more laid back, more Springsteen than emo, and it was clear it would be a challenge to win over the young crowd. Despite the typically muddy, opening act sound, Yorn and his tight four-piece backing band were very strong, especially on songs like “Life on a Chain”, “For Nancy”, and “Closet”. The most sublime part of his set was a stirring, slightly down-tempo cover of The Smiths’ classic “Panic” (a song older than half the audience) which segued into “Strange Condition”, one of the best tracks from Yorn’s album. By the end of his 45 minute set, the cheers from the floor were louder, showing that Yorn will easily win some new young fans during this tour.
The kids were there for Weezer, though, and as the opening chords to “Dope Nose” were struck, it was pandemonium, as the band kicked into their current single, the catchiest song they’ve done in years. Surprisingly, the set list was light on material from Maladroit, their excellent upcoming album; everyone was familiar with “Dope Nose”, but the cool Funk Lite of “Burndt Jamb” and the even newer tune “Superstar” (currently in contention for Album Number Five, which was being recorded this past month. It’s all very confusing) received the most tepid reaction from the fans. No, there were few surprises this night, as Weezer stuck to its growing catalog of career highlights. The audience, perhaps the most well-behaved rock crowd I’ve seen, giddily ate it all up, happily crowd surfing, pogoing, and just having fun.
If you took all seventeen original songs from that night’s gig and put them on a compilation album, it’d be better than most other “best-of” releases you’ll come across, such is the high quality of A-list material the band has put out on four measly records. The majority of their set rotated among the first four albums: “Don’t Let Go” (“Played in F sharp. The key of champions.”), “Hash Pipe” (preceded by a cautionary “Pardon my mayhem,” from Cuomo), “Knock Down Drag Out”, “Island in the Sun”, and “Photograph” from last year’s Green Album; “Tired of Sex”, “The Good Life”, and “Why Bother” from 1996’s cult fave Pinkerton. However, the biggest cheers were for the songs from their first eponymous album, as every word of “My Name is Jonas”, “Surf Wax America”, “Undone (The Sweater Song)”, “Buddy Holly”, and “Say it Ain’t So” were joyously sung along by the crowd. For good measure, the band played a pogo-happy cover of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” as an encore.
Onstage, Weezer were neither overly charismatic nor shoegazing, but despite a couple technical glitches (being the first show of the current tour), they were very, very tight. Stringbean guitarist Brian Bell stuck to his side of the stage for the duration, contributing mostly rhythm guitar with a few lead fills. The rhythm section consisting of ebullient drummer Patrick Wilson and bassist Scott Shriner were solid throughout, with the tattooed, animated Shriner, looking as anti-emo as he could manage, serving as the band member who connected with the audience the most. The show’s success, though, depended on Cuomo, and after his subdued opening remarks, he quickly loosened up, thanks in part to a pair of panties thrown onstage during “Dope Nose”. “How rock and roll,” he said, holding them up. “Wait a minute, these are briefs. Nasty.” The bearded Cuomo also donned a wool hat thrown by a kid in the crowd early in the set, and spent the entire show looking like Badly Drawn Boy’s shrimpy little brother.
Much has been made about Weezer’s ironic, geeky image, how they take hard rock clichés and give them their own twist, from their metal riffs and contrasting sensitive-guy lyrics, to their brilliant merchandise that lampoons Eighties metal (their parody of Slayer’s “Slaytanic Wehrmacht” T-shirt is genius), all the way down to the big, goofy, lit-up, Van Halen-styled “W” that descends at the end of their show. It all sounds so satirical, but when you see it in person, when you see several thousand kids go absolutely nuts when that “W” comes down during the climactic “Only in Dreams”—just like kids like myself did when Iron Maiden’s “Eddie” appeared during their concerts years and years ago—you’re hit with the realization that Weezer, above all else, want to rock. From the “W,” to the pillars of smoke during “Hash Pipe” (lovely symbolism, there), to the ludicrous confetti blizzard, to the strobe lights, they, like their fans, are just reveling in the pure, glorious stupidity of rock and roll, and bless ‘em for it.