“Are you ready to take a ride on the Weezer time machine?” Rivers Cuomo bellowed Wednesday night to a way-sold-out Orpheum crowd, composed of nutcases and fanboys all quaking in their boots awaiting a sugar-rush of '90s nostalgia. The conceit of this current Weezer tour, “Memories,” is that the band is doing two-night stands, each night running through one of the first two mid-90s long-players. The night before was their 1994 eponymous debut, affectionately known as The Blue Album; on Wednesday, though, it was time for ‘96’s much-derided-at-the-time-before-it-became-enshrined-as-the-pinnacle-of-pre-emo-cool Pinkerton. Meaning that this audience was of course primed to take the aforementioned ride, since it involved a trip back to an album-era that few got to experience the first time around.
The surprising thing, though, was that the show did far more to sell the band’s post-Pinkerton career to an audience that had perhaps written them off more than ten years ago than one might have thought going in. After all, if you were one of the chosen few to have scored the coveted tickets for tonight’s show, then the odds were good that you bought into the theory that Pinkerton was the band’s emotional highlight. Which perhaps was why Cuomo seemed to work so hard selling the band’s recent hits during the show’s first set, a reverse-chronology romp that began with the numbingly melodious “Memories” from this fall’s Hurley and blasted through ten or so tunes, concluding with the epic “Only In Dreams” from The Blue Album. The current Weezer configuration sees Cuomo only sporadically playing guitar, freeing him to stalk the stage maniacally. His demeanor is still relatively pinned down: he stormed the stage at the onset wearing a camping windbreaker over a Boy Scouts uniform shirt, and while he may have lost the windbreaker mid-set in a flurry of pointed fingers and water-bottle-spraying, he put it back on a song later. But for the normally nerve-wracked frontman, the show was a revelation in showmanship, as he quickly broke into the aisles of the Orpheum, singing song after song on the arms of seats, stalking the rows like a deranged Rick Moranis circa Ghostbusters.
A lengthy intermission led to a complete runthrough of Pinkerton -- this time stripped back to the four-piece configuration of the original album, with Cuomo and guitarist Brian Bell in white button-up shirts tucked neatly into slacks to recapture the nerdy chick-trauma of the 1996 album. Compared to the hi-NRG anthemic nature of first set highlights like “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived” and “Susanne” (the former a mini-rock opera from 2008’s The Red Album that worked shockingly well live, the latter one of several early b-sides the band busted out), Pinkerton revealed itself to be slower-paced, noisier and more of a bummer than the band’s subsequent output.
In fact, watching the band plow through the album’s ten tracks was indeed a time machine back to the mid-'90s: and wow, I really forgot what a mopey drudge-world music was back then (or at least what used to be called “alternative” music)! “This is beginning to hurt/this is beginning to be serious” Cuomo croons in the caustic-and-plodding “Getchoo,” Pinkerton‘s second number: and after the cavalcade of jubilant rock theater that populated the first set, it seemed to be a true statement of the blanket of gloom and desperation the album spread on everyone. Album closer “Butterfly”, a sensitive acoustic number Cuomo sang solo ended the evening; the song’s wounded apology for sexual longing seeming like a very odd and deflating ending to what had been a mere hour earlier a celebratory gig. Perhaps when Cuomo pleaded “I’m sorry” over and over at the end, he was speaking not just of his adolescent urges but of the way that reviving this record on this tour has allowed him to pick some old old scabs in public, with resultant bummers abounding. In the end, the real revelation may have been just how vibrant the band’s post-Pinkerton material stands up against that album’s wailing wall of hurt.