Live Review: Weezer Goes Acoustic, Brings Out Thao, and Actually Gives a Shit at Slim's

November 2, 2014

Better than: Many people rightfully expected it to be.

No matter how sick Rivers Cuomo might be of journalists holding his band's output over the last 15 years up to the music Weezer made in the six years before those, the comparison is beyond inevitable: The sharp left turn the band made after its sophomore record — away from simply good, at times painfully earnest songwriting that succeeded in large part because it captured and empathized with the awkwardness, self-loathing, and tenderness of every adolescent introvert ever, and toward commercially slick radio rock that had all the sheen, the hooks, and the self-deprecating sneer but not an ounce of the soul, a pod-person version of its former self, really — is nothing less than a defining element of the band's career.

[jump] We say this to get it out of the way, and to explain that this one-time teenage Weezer devotee — raise your hand here if you ever listened to The Blue Album very loudly in a Walkman to tune out your parents on a long trip in a station wagon, or lay awake in the dark listening to Pinkerton in its entirety and transposing your unrequited crushes onto Cuomo's — went into last night's sold-out show at Slim's with a healthy dose of trepidation. Expectations were low.
Which is the background you should have before trying to swallow the following statements at face value: Weezer slayed last night at Slim's. The band played loudly, and joyfully, for a full 90 minutes, to a room full of 20- to 40-somethings displaying the kind of feeling that's only possible when each person shoved up against another person is having a private experience — a seriously personal, emotional interaction with a song, in a sea of people all having their own. 

And, most importantly, Rivers Cuomo seemed to respond to this by really giving a shit — from the moment he walked onstage solo, in a white astronaut's jumpsuit, to start the nine-song acoustic opening set with the relative rarity “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly” (reminding us yet again that the Angus motion picture soundtrack is maybe the most underrated soundtrack of all time); as guitarist Brian Bell, then bassist Scott Shriner (sporting a serious cast on his right arm), then drummer Pat Wilson each joined him over successive songs, while the crowd shout-sang every word (“Why Bother?” never sounded so good). Then there was a quick switch to an electric setup and the addition of Ozma's Daniel Brummel on keys in order to play straight through the new album, the Ric Ocasek-produced “hey this is better than they've sounded for the last decade” loose concept record/return-to-complex-melodies-and-actual-guitar-work record Everything Will Be Alright In The End. And, an hour and a half later, a single-song sing-along encore (a cathartic “No Other One”). Even before the theatrical burst of confetti, there was something unexpectedly triumphant in the air.
“The last time we played Slim's it was 1994, and we were opening for Material Issue,” said an almost alarmingly good-natured Cuomo at some point midway through the EWBAITE set. “And now we're headlining!” Cue a rimshot from Wilson on the drums. The joke being, of course, that Weezer hasn't played Slim's for the last two decades because Weezer got too big for Slim's; another part of the joke being that getting too big for Slim's was related to Weezer making some really terrible music for the last decade. As Cuomo has recounted in several interviews on this current publicity blitz, it was playing for Weezer superfans on a cruise in 2012 that redirected his songwriting, made him want to win back the old school die-hards, the same ones belting the lyrics to “El Scorcho” when he went silent on a verse to just hold the mic out toward the adoring crowd. 

And based on last night, he's succeeded: The official Weezer fan club, which has been going strong since the days of GeoCities fan pages, was out in full force, sporting special wristbands, posing behind a banner after the show. During “Foolish Father,” the last tune of the main section on the new album, a row of maybe a dozen fans in judges' robes were walked onstage behind the band to provide the dramatic Greek chorus-like backup vocals. That preceded the three-track coda that concludes the record, the last song of which, “III. Return to Ithaka,” became an emotive space-age guitar shredfest — we couldn't help but think of it as “Only In Dreams 2.0.”

It might not mean as much to us as The Blue Album did way back when, but hey: There are probably 15-year-olds listening in the dark right now, headphones blaring via technology that's definitely not a Walkman, for whom it means absolutely everything. Say what you will about Weezer, but for the time being, that means Weezer's doing Weezer just right.  
Critic's Notebook:

— This was the fourth of eight dates the band's playing at small clubs on this mini-tour; they'll be back next year for a more arena-friendly set of shows.

— Local charmer Thao Nguyen of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down came out briefly to do the honors of the female vocals on “Go Away,” the part sung by Best Coast's Bethany Consentino on the record, then quickly slipped offstage and watched the rest of the set from the side stage. We kinda wanted her to stay up there.

— Brian Bell is still an immensely talented guitarist and absolutely fundamental part of this band. He also appears to be aging into an interesting combination of James Taylor and the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer

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