Weezer at the United Center

 

September 24, 2001

 

The alternative genre has been at an all-time nadir for several years now, dominated by boneheaded rock-rappers raging against women and muscle-bound nu-metalers wailing their leaden ballads filled with inexplicable angst.

Against this bleak backdrop, the impressive success of Weezerís self-titled third album and the tour that brought the Los Angeles quartet to the United Center on Friday were nothing less than rays of sunshine offering the golden promise of salvation.

The audience represented the smartest, most individualistic vanguard of Generation Y. Three times and with unprecedented volume they loudly booed the hapless DJ from Q101. They proudly flaunted their various piercings and oddly dyed hairdos, and they discussed the anti-corporatization movement between sets.

It was almost like Lollapalooza circa 1992 again, and thatís not surprising, since Weezer has its roots in the post-Nirvana era. The group issued two sparkling albums filled with anthemic radio hits before taking five years off so that singer-songwriter Rivers Cuomo could attend Harvard. To this audience, Weezer is "classic rock," and its return is akin to a reunion of the Talking Heads, whose David Byrne is clearly a model for Cuomoís defiantly geeky anti-cool persona.

On stage, the stylistic differences between each of the groupís albums were amplified. The first effort remains the source of the bandís most memorable melodies, with indelible anthems such as "My Name Is Jonas," Undone--The Sweater Song," and "Buddy Holly" converting well to enthusiastic arena sing-alongs.

The material from the new album is more subtle, drawing largely from the gentler, prom-theme currents of í50s rock and the exuberant pop of the early Beatles, especially via Brian Bellís chiming guitar lines and Pat Wilsonís exceedingly musical drumming. (Alas, the group played only one song, "Tired of Sex," from its second album "Pinkerton," the bridge between these two sounds.)

With the exception of the cheekily hard-rocking "Hashpipe," the charms of new tunes such as "Island in the Sun," the exquisite "Smile," and the heartwarming "Glorious Days" were scattered at the United Center, their intimacy lost amid the vast, cavernous space. As performers, Weezer certainly didnít make any effort to accommodate the massive setting: There were no visuals aside from the giant illuminated "W" that it uses at club shows, and Cuomoís mumbling stage patter would have been the same at Metro, except that it would have been audible there.

In the end, the poor choice of venue, whether it was motivated by the bandís or the promoterís greed, dampened what would otherwise have been a transcendent pop experience. So, too, did the bandís rigidity and lack of imagination--the set list was identical to what itís been playing at other stops on this tour, and very similar to its first show here in March at the Aragon (a room that was much better suited to the music).

The other down side of the evening were the opening acts. In the middle slot, the plodding, self-important nu-metal band Cold tried to combine the very worst tendencies of the Cult and the Psychedelic Furs. Their dime store-gothic moodiness had nothing to do with Weezer or its crowd, so why were they on the bill? Hmm, could it have anything to do with the fact that Cold and Weezer share the same major label, Interscope Records?

Kicking things off was the New Wave revival band the Start, which aimed for its own hybrid between No Doubt and earlyí80s rock like Missing Persons and the Romantics. Its 30-minute set was spirited and danceable, if not particularly original, and when Aimee Echo wasnít pandering to the crowd by name checking Weezer or singing at the higher, helium-chirp end of her register, she was a warm and winning front woman.

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