A lion’s share of pop culture in the twenty-first century has seemed to be new versions of pop culture from the twentieth century. Hollywood has naturally been ground zero for this, with remakes, ‘reimaginings’, long-delayed sequels, and long-delayed prequels, but it’s been felt in everything from television (hello, new Hawaii 5-0!) to Oprah’s Book Club (which, post-James Frey, went old-school with works like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude). Music has been no exception, with the two big trends being reunions & top-to-bottom performances of a classic album (and occasionally both, like The Pixies’ Doolittle tour – QRO review). Weezer never broke up, so couldn’t get back together again, but did have two great twen-cen records in their 1994 self-titled debut and 1996 follow-up, Pinkerton (QRO deluxe edition re-release review), which they unfortunately could never match, and haven’t. So the band whose old stuff you’ve always liked better answered your prayers by taking you in the “Weezer time machine”, going back to the blue-covered Weezer when their ‘Memories’ tour came to Roseland Ballroom in New York, NY on Friday, December 17th.
The first of two nights, the second being devoted to Pinkerton, the Roseland show was part of the band’s short ‘Memories’ tour, devoted to the first two records – but not solely devoted to the early stuff. Neither of the first two records (the earliest is referred to as ‘Blue’, for its blue cover, to separate from the band’s later, also self-titled releases with differently colored covers) are long enough to fill up an entire show – in fact, neither are really long enough even to make it to the encore break. And what would the band do for an encore? Play more recent material that the Blue-loving crowd hadn’t primarily come there to see? Maybe Weezer could have played the two records back-to-back on one night, but for the Blue night, the first half of the evening was devoted to the steps backwards, with at least one song from every one of the major studio releases, in reverse chronological order. Singer/frontman Rivers Cuomo opened the show by imploring the packed Roseland if they were, “Ready to go back in the Weezer time machine?”
Weezer playing “Island In the Sun” live at Roseland Ballroom in New York, NY on December 17th, 2010:
“First stop, August, 2010” wasn’t that long ago (though the band did skip the even more recent extras album, Death to False Metal – QRO review), but it was one of their best records in a while, Hurley (QRO review). The first tour since putting out the album dedicated to the greatest character on TV’s greatest-ever (and utterly original) drama (a big backdrop of the album cover, a photo of Jorge Garcia, hung behind Weezer during the first half of the set), the ‘Memories’ title actually came from the lead-off song from Hurley and of the night, as Cuomo sang what everyone was feeling, “Memories, make me want to go back there.” If more recent Weezer records have been inferior to early Weezer, they’ve still had a few pieces of up-anthem rock suitable for the big stage, such as “Memories”, “I Want You To” from last year’s Raditude (QRO review), and “Troublemaker” & “Pork and Beans” from 2008’s Weezer (Red Album) (QRO review), which came up next in the trip back in time. And live, Weezer are more than capable of selling any song, definitely the big ones, as the group’s bombastic joy at their success is quite infectious – especially when Cuomo jumps into the crowd, as he does often. “Troublemaker” saw Cuomo in the photo pit, even taking a camera from a fan (and not from one of the photogs in the still-occupied pit, who were trying to not get in his way while still get as close as possible for a money shot) and giving it to guitarist Brian Bell to take a special, from-the-stage shot. But “Pork” saw Cuomo go much further into the crowd, past the raised VIP area to the house-left and to the near back of Roseland, then into the crowd, right up to the soundboard, spotlight in tow. And he made it back to the stage by going straight through the audience for 2005 Make Believe standout single “Beverly Hills” (currently underwater, so maybe not “Where I wanna be”), reaching the photo barrier from the fan’s side this time – an old hand at going into and out of the crowd, Cuomo knew that security would be there to get him over the barrier, so just put his arms up the air and let the requisite muscled security guy lift him up above the barrier and back onto the stage (said security guy was later seen singing along to Weezer, so the incident might have been special for him, too…).
Anyone would be tired out by that, so Cuomo took a breather while Bell took up lead vocals on the subsequent “Keep Fishin'” from 2002’s Maladroit, before Cuomo returned to the mike for 2001’s Weezer (Green Album). The record after Pinkerton, Green got extra exposure in the first half of the set, with three songs, “Photograph”, “Island In the Sun”, in which Cuomo started solo (save for leading the crowd in sing-alongs of the “Hip-hip” chorus) before the rest of the band rejoined him mid-song, and an always-welcome “Hash Pipe”. Being that the next night was the time for Pinkerton to shine, only “Falling For You” from it was played on Friday, and while any Weezer set could use “El Scorcho”, “Falling” was a suitably great piece to end the ‘getting there’ first half of the journey.
Weezer playing “Falling For You” live at Roseland Ballroom in New York, NY on December 17th, 2010:
The post-Blue/Blue split left an easy spot for a mid-set break, as opposed to the usual ‘regular set/encore return’ set-up of a concert. Unfortunately, this left everyone in the excited crowd with time they didn’t know what to do with, after already rockin’ out & being ready for much more. This would have been a minor issue, were it not for three things: First, Roseland Ballroom (QRO venue review) was absolutely packed. Sold-out despite the $60 ticket + $15 fee price tag (that’s for one night, folks – $150 total for both), the large Roseland was wall-to-wall with fans, from photo barrier to back bar, balcony to underneath the balcony [note: this is where your correspondent was after taking photos, basically to the side of the stage, if well-removed – that’s why all the videos & post-pit photos are from that angle; did see Cuomo hanging around in the ‘backstage’ between the stage & fans to the house-right during “Fishin'” – he gave one fan an ET-style finger-touching-finger].
Second, Weezer fans are definite ‘bros’ – other than when Pauly D was putting it down on the ones-and-twos at nearby Terminal 5 (QRO venue review) last month, there was there never such a thick-necked, frat/jock crowd (also had the girls who pair with said bros, often using their muscle to get themselves a closer, better view). The lines for beer were long (there was even a wait in the back bar at Roseland that so few people know about), and it was impossible to imagine leaving your spot during the mid-set break. EMT staff came through the crowd at least once during the wait, and there was an incident when one bro accused another of “leaning on” him, telling the leaner to back off because, “I don’t want to go to jail again” (end result: both got kicked out).
Weezer playing “My Name Is Jonas” live at Roseland Ballroom in New York, NY on December 17th, 2010:
Third, when the action on stage resumed, it was not the immediate return of Weezer, but rather long time band associate Karl Koch doing a slide show of the early days of the band. While it was neat to see photos of their old van and “the garage”, plus fliers of them playing with forgotten early nineties acts like that dog (or never-heard-of-in-the-first-place groups like Black Market Flowers), it was quite hard to make out what Koch was saying over the din of the crowd. He did have some funny lines, the best being reciting the less-than-stellar first-ever Weezer review, “This band was probably the most blatant Nirvana-wannabe that I’ve seen yet,” but that was the only one that the entire crowd could catch, because they could read it on the projection screen.
Weezer playing “No One Else” live at Roseland Ballroom in New York, NY on December 17th, 2010:
Weezer did finally return, but there was a different feel from both band & crowd. Cuomo had removed the trademark horn-rimmed glasses that it’s hard to imagine him not wearing, and had taken up his guitar. Drummer Patrick Watson was back on drums, after being on guitar for the first half of the set, playing Cuomo’s guitar parts (which gave the singer the freedom to go into the crowd), with touring drummer Josh Freese not having returned to the stage. Moreover, Cuomo seemed less enthused about doing the Blue half of the show than the first half. Some of that was probably due to being ‘tied down’ to the guitar, and Watson likewise seems to enjoy the newer performing set up better (if his rocker ‘oh’ faces when on the axe are anything to go by), but perhaps it was because the love for Blue only points out that he, the songwriter of the group (save a few poor tracks from the rest on Red), hasn’t matched those heights in years. Or maybe he’s just a little tired of songs that he’s been playing for over a decade-and-a-half. It doesn’t take any of that armchair psychology to know that Scott Shriner probably prefers to play the twenty-first century Weezer songs, since he joined the band in 2001 (the only non-charter Weezer, aside from Freese), leaving Bell the one on stage clearly having the most fun, such as the twirl of his fingers when playing his occasional keyboard notes during “Buddy Holly”.
Weezer playing “Buddy Holly” live at Roseland Ballroom in New York, NY on December 17th, 2010:
But if the band was a little less psyched, the crowd was only more so. The wait might have been long, but it didn’t damper the enthusiasm for Blue. The set list being the Blue track list meant the crowd knew it in advance (and, if you forgot, you could look it up on your iPod or web-enabled cell phone easily enough), but that actually only heightened the enjoyment. Cuomo’s mike could have cut off at any point and the crowd’s sing-along would have been enough, as everyone knew the words to every song and it was impossible not to sing them to the music (swear you could even hear some people repeating the ‘at a show’ talking heard during the quiet moments on the recording of “Undone”), right from the first notes of the amazing album/second half opener, “My Name Is Jonas”. “Jonas” unfortunately didn’t have the harmonica that Cuomo usually does live (that damn guitar getting in the way again…), and Cuomo didn’t have his Buddy Holly-esque glasses for “Buddy Holly” (someone in the crowd did throw a sweater on stage for “Undone (The Sweater Song)”), but the best Blue songs were those that the band hasn’t regularly played in their ‘regular’ shows (QRO review), where you’d hear those great three, but maybe not “No One Else” or “Surf Wax America”. Those pieces, “The World Has Turned (And Left Me Here)”, and “Say It Ain’t So” were suitably anthemistic, with the “Surf”/”Say” combo hitting the night’s awesomest note (however, while there was some crowd-surfing during the show, and all of it was during the Blue half, there was not so much during the oh-so-big “Surf”). And while Blue the record did dip slightly near its end, “In the Garage”, “Holiday”, and “Only In Dreams” (another three not as common on regular Weezer set lists) were great live (even if the crowd sang a lot louder during “Garage” for “My favorite rock group, KISS” than for “Dungeon Master’s Guide” or “Twelve-sided die”), including an absolutely mammoth “Dreams” to end the night.
Weezer playing “Surf Wax America” live at Roseland Ballroom in New York, NY on December 17th, 2010:
After 9/11, Katrina, the stock market crash, two wars, etc. (i.e., the entire Bush Administration), it really should come as no surprise that American pop culture has been looking to simpler times, when the worst a President could do was lie about sex and Nirvana was still around to be compared to (Dave Grohl’s recruited Kris Novoselic and Nevermind producer Butch Vig for the next Foo Fighters album…). For their ‘Memories’ tour, Weezer nicely brought back the past without being stuck in it.
Weezer playing “Say It Ain’t So” live at Roseland Ballroom in New York, NY on December 17th, 2010: