Two songs into its
75-minute set at the Aragon on Wednesday, Weezer dusted off one of the most
memorable tunes from its self-titled 1994 debut -- "the blue album," fans
call it now -- recalling a time before the group hit it big at the height of
the alternative era.
"In the garage/Where I
belong/ No one hears me sing this song," bandleader Rivers Cuomo sang,
evoking the days when he serenaded the lawn chairs in the family garage
while dreaming of joining Kiss.
A sold-out crowd of
4,500 worshipful fans sang along with every word.
Unlike most of its
peers, Weezer weathered the death of alternative rock in the late '90s by
taking a sabbatical and disappearing from the music scene. During its
absence, the lovably geeky California smart-pop band grew more popular than
ever, and the members were greeted as conquering heroes when Weezer returned
with its self-titled third release -- "the green album" -- in 2001. But the
quartet had lost something along the way.
The genius of those
"blue album" hits -- songs such as "Buddy Holly," "My Name Is Jonas" and
"Say It Ain't So," which provided the highlights of Wednesday's set -- is
that they are wonderfully odd, totally distinctive and thoroughly personal
pop songs, full of unexpected twists and turns, but brimming with half a
dozen hooks each. Thanks to saturation airplay by MTV (remember when it
played music?) and modern-rock radio (remember when there really was such a
thing?), these songs became accidental arena anthems, but they were never
intended as such.
Since its return -- with
new bassist Mikey Welsh joining Cuomo, drummer Patrick Wilson and second
guitarist Brian Bell -- Weezer has increasingly written with the arena in
mind, simplifying its song structures, dumbing down its lyrics and paring
down the bounty of melodies to one big, repetitive hook per tune. "Hash
Pipe," the signature hit from the green album, set the formula, and "Beverly
Hills," the first single from the group's new disc "Make Believe," follows
it, with diminishing results.
Arriving in stores on
Tuesday, "Make Believe" isn't a bad album, it's just not a great one, and we
have now been settling for Weezer giving us something less than its absolute
best since the intensely personal "Pinkerton" in 1996. There was a
noticeable sapping of energy at the Aragon every time Cuomo introduced one
of the new songs, including tunes such as "Pardon Me," "Haunt You Every
Day," "Hold Me" and "Peace."
It wasn't just the fact
that fans are less familiar with these tunes. Like every other anticipated
release these days, leaked copies of "Make Believe" have been available for
download for weeks now, and few fan bases are more Internet-savvy than
The new songs were more
rooted in '50s rock cliches and were much less innovative -- Bell moved to
keyboards while a roadie came out to add second guitar for many of them, but
that hardly qualified as a significant step forward -- but fans don't worry
much about that sort of thing, either.
Ultimately, the flaw in
Weezer's performance was that half the set simply wasn't as good as the
other half. Judging by the number of tunes from the blue album and
"Pinkerton" and the absence of anything at all from 2002's "Maladroit,"
Weezer is aware of this downward spiral, and one suspects that on its next
album and tour cycle, there won't be nearly as many songs from "Make
Believe." (Fans will have to endure the band hyping its new product for some
time longer: The group returns to Chicago as a headliner at the revitalized
Lollapalooza in July.)
Where can Weezer go from
here if it wants to remain a vital and creative force and not just an aging
alt-rock nostalgia act? The band should consider a return to that fabled
garage -- or at least the attitude that prevailed there.
"In the garage/I feel
safe/No one cares about my ways," Cuomo sang. If the group's driving force
worried a little less about prompting cheers from the arena crowd and
winning the love of the star-making machinery, Weezer might reclaim the
glories it never anticipated winning in the first place.