Reviewing the live show of a band you're a big fan of can be a tricky proposition. On one hand it helps to be familiar with the material, but as a fan you're likely to fill in some of the performance holes with the caulk of fond memory. On the opposite end of the spectrum, reviewing a band you have no tolerance for can be tough as well. Better to come down somewhere in the middle, and discard the highest and lowest scores of the tiny award show judges that live inside your brain and tell you what to think about everything. Right? Maybe that's just me.
Fortunately for me on Tuesday night (Dec. 14), the band in question embodies both those qualities at once. If I was putting together a list of bands that were most influential in my life, Weezer would be right up there at the top. But like a lot of original fans, the band as I knew it just doesn't really exist anymore in the way that someone you've broken up with after a long romance doesn't exist anymore. I mean, yes, they obviously still exist, but the thing between you doesn't. You aren't a couple anymore, you're two distinct entities piloting your ridiculous bodies around the world unconnected. When you bump into them from time to time seeing all the bad decisions they've made in the intervening years it further erases the memory. Or does it? Maybe that's just a particularly emo way of looking at things, but when you're talking about Weezer, a band that practically invented the concept of emo in the past fifteen years (yes, I know about all the other bands involved, so spare me the lecture), that might be the correct way to look at things, wistfully pining for a past that's no longer there. Maybe it never was?
Or maybe I'm missing the point of a band's evolution. The next group of sullen youngsters has to come along and punch the clock for their stint in the youthful rebellion factory after all. A band doesn't get to be yours alone forever, unless they break up early, or die young. Anyone who wishes that upon their favorite bands probably never really liked them that much to begin with.
That said, how about these last few Weezer records? Jesus Christ, what a bunch of turds. Somehow they still manage to churn out a transcendent single or two every album, like “Perfect Situation” or “Pork and Beans”, but for the most part it's not worth going to see the band anymore. Odds are you'll get a smattering of old hits mixed in with goofy joke tracks and formulaic songs with cringeworthy pop-culture referencing lyrics. The aim of the Memories Tour, the first night of which this past Tuesday had the band performing their debut "The Blue Album" front to back, was a salve meant to heal the psychological wounds of disgruntled old fans like myself, an olive branch, if you will. “See, we know you think this was our best work, let us make it up to you.” Or maybe that's just projection on the part of the fan. From all the interviews he's done recently, like the one here in the Phoenix, there's really no indication that Rivers Cuomo thinks any less of the band's recent work. And why should he? Weezer is still very much an every day present for him and the band. We're the ones living in the past.
On Tuesday, living in the past was a sanctioned collective hallucination we all agreed to go in on together. The night began with Weezer running through their most recent single, the appropriately thematic “Memories.” “All the memories, how can we make it back there, back there? I want be there again.” From there they wound the clocks backward, playing a song or two from each album. “2009. Ratitude” Cuomo barked out, launching into “(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To.” “2008. The Red Album.” “Troublemaker” and so on... The set list included welcome latter day hits like “Pork and Beans” as well as execrable ones like “Beverly Hills.”
The band was predictably solid, with drummer Patrick Wilson playing guitar most of the way along side regulars Brian Bell and Scott Shriner. The three part harmonies were largely studio perfect. But the most surprising part of the proceedings was Cuomo himself, who was more energetic and lively than I ever imagined he could be. He climbed on the speaker cabinets (gingerly, and awkwardly, but still), jumped off the drum riser, took his wireless mic out into the crowd (he eschewed guitar for the first set), and even climbed up into the opera boxes. Wait a minute, sir, who are you and what have you done with Mr. Cuomo? He worked the room with so much star-power and charisma, it was practically the antithesis of everything I'd cemented in my brain as being the meaning of Weezer. He seemed more like a Fred Armisen character playing a weird rock star than the mercurial, socially awkward frontman of my imagination. Good.
For the second set, the band returned to its earlier incarnation, with Cuomo strapping on his guitar, and getting down to the business of making memories happen. After having attended the second night, in which they played Pinkerton, an album I had always thought was my favorite, it was shocking to be reminded just how beautiful "The Blue Album" is. Without a word, the band performed the album, almost flawlessly, with little more than an album's track break between songs. And the hits just kept on coming. From the guitar intro of “My Name Is Jonas” to the glorious crescendo of “Only In Dreams” fans sung themselves hoarse, shed tears, embraced. Maybe it was just a little dusty in the old Orpheum hall, but this fan got something in his eye at unexpected lyrical moments I hadn't even realized meant so much to me. “The workers are going home” “I've got Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler too.” “Do you believe what I sing now?”
If you're reading this review, all of those lines likely mean something to you. They probably bring you back to the moment when you first heard them. That was the point, with the band operating an emotional time machine effected through their most beloved music.