I’d do ’bout anything to get the hell out alive: Rivers Cuomo and Dancing with Who Brought You

Ed. Note:  Remember that whole “I’m only going to write about movies and TV” thing?  Well, that embargo doesn’t account for my friends.  Here is Puck Daddy and The Two-Line Pass‘s own Ryan Lambert’s review of Weezer’s concert in Boston last night, and his thoughts of the Memories tour in whole:

They played the songs in a detached-but-slavishly-faithful sort of way, with one exception. In the middle of the second set’s eighth song, “In the Garage.” In it, Weezer frontman/mastermind/arguable-band-ruiner Rivers Cuomo made one slight shift in inflection, putting a little extra oomph behind the word “stupid.” As in, “I sing these stupid songs.”

And that’s really all you need to know about Weezer’s Memories tour.

For the uninitiated, this was the nerdrock supergroup’s first tour in years, a gimmick really, in which it leaned heavily on the two albums that endeared them to their earliest and most dedicated fanbase. In fact, in each of the five cities in which it will play on this brief tour, it is playing on back-to-back nights, ripping through its self-titled debut record (the Blue album) on the first, and its exquisite, universally-worshipped but commercially unsuccessful followup, Pinkerton, the next.

When the tour, no doubt the brainchild of a marketing wiz at the label who noticed severely dipping record sales and gate receipts, was announced, it was met with a near-giddiness among my friends who are longtime Weezer devotees that, like most of America, had long ago stopped taking notice of the band’s new albums, instead preferring to listen to these two seminal albums, released 16 and 14 years ago, respectively, over and over and over again.

(The joke, of course, is that “Memories” is a truncated version of much longer tour names, including “Memories of When Our Actual Fans Liked Us,” or “Memories of When We Were Tolerable.”)

No one, to put it nicely, listens to Weezer for their new music these days. In fact, almost all their releases are instead met with eye-rolling derision. Their latest, Hurley, features the face of infinitely irritating Lost actor Jorge Garcia and was released on Epitaph Records in mid-September, selling 59,000 copies or so to date. To give you an idea of how bad that is, Raditude, which no one liked, has sold 240,000 copies since November 2009. And the band’s self-titled Red album has shipped 443,000 since June 2008.

These are a huge drop since 2005’s Make Believe (which went platinum), and even from 2002’s Maladroit, which at the time was considered another commercial flop for the band even as it went gold.

Certainly, though, almost all of these albums have been artistic and critical bombs. And that’s because Weezer isn’t Weezer any more. They’re putting out records under that name, sure, and occasionally bastardizing the iconic cover of the Blue album when they happen to take a downgrade in label. But any resemblance the current group has to its mid-90s angsty days is coincidental, and that’s by design.

When Pinkerton flopped and was met with stunningly, incomprehensively negative reviews, Cuomo, who had poured his heart into the record, was devastated. The band didn’t put out another album for five years, and the Green album, which gets a lot of undue flak from Weezer hardcores (it’s a perfectly competent Weezer ripoff album, after all, and if your band released it, people would have loved you for it), is clearly the work of a man trying to play to a number of audiences.

The Green album is obviously Cuomo’s favorite of the band’s catalog, and likely for more reasons than it made him a ton of goddamn money and got him really quite famous after he probably figured his career as a musician was on the downswing.

That’s all a long way of saying that when it comes to music, people want what they want, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to budge from that without a hell of a reason. Clearly, the only one provided Memories, for which Weezer charged $70(!) a head per night on a tour Driven by All State, was financial.

Prior to the tour, it was announced that the band would play both the album people were actually paying a lot of money to see as well as an alleged Greatest Hits set. It was generally hoped that they would play the songs in chronological order so as to ease people’s exiting the building when the last chord of the last song on Pinkerton had died down. No such luck, likely because the band knew that it would be playing to an empty house by the time “Hash Pipe” got going.

In fact, they played the hits in reverse chronological order, positively assaulting the audience’s ears with Hurley’s big single — where “big” is a relative term — “Memories.” Appropriate enough, but this wasn’t much of a singalong tune for the audience despite its relatively uptempo nature and Cuomo, perplexingly, bouncing on a trampoline. Next came Raditude’s “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” which was, in spirit at least, a throwback to the early albums’ themes of nervous would-be lovers fumbling clumsily toward what may be romantic contentedness.

I had never heard these songs, being a Weezer purist myself, and I do not wish to hear them again. I’m sure someone would like them. I might even like them myself given repeated listens, but I won’t grant them that chance. I want what I want. Songs that try to make me remember why I liked the band in the first place is not one of them.

The band then played “Troublemaker” and “Pork and Beans” from the Red album, the latter of which I’d actually heard before because the band went out of its way to create a music video that no one on the internet could ignore. It was not the worst thing. The former, however, was. I can’t imagine why anyone would write a song that deliberately childish (“Who needs stupid books?/They are for petty crooks” might be the worst two lines of any song ever), or, even if they did, why they would deign to put it in anything resembling a collection of greatest hits. Speaking of which, they then played “Beverly Hills” off Make Believe, which also sucks.

I cannot, for the life of me, remember what song they could have possibly played off Maladroit. Which is just as well, because no one listened to that record anyway.

During this previous part of the show, Cuomo was ebullient. He bounced all over the stage, wandered into the audience and even into the balcony, threw rolls of toilet paper into the crowd and generally had a good time. These songs were about embracing id and he was doing it. Fine.

Then he settled down again to put some real workmanship into the three (THREE!) songs from the Green album, “Photograph,” “Island in the Sun,” and “Hash Pipe,” in that order. The last song of that group more or less ends with Cuomo uttering a growl before repeating “I’ve got my hash pipe” a few more times, and in the feedback-y interval between the end of that song and the beginning of the first set’s only appearance by a song from Pinkerton, the endlessly enjoyable “Falling for You,” he let that grunt rip a few more times just for effect.

Again, the performance of these songs were all flawless, at least the ones I recognized, and “Falling” was no different. It was exactly what anyone who goes to a Weezer show expecting to hear a Pinkerton song could hope for. But when it ended, so too did the band’s first set, and while the rest of the band simply walked off stage, Cuomo literally crawled away after slumping against an amp.

I think Rivers Cuomo believes probably the three worst things that ever happened to him was, in order, 1) Pinkerton being released, 2) the Blue album being released, and 3) having to play these shows. Because when the band came out after a brief and somewhat enjoyable slideshow of Weezer-y type nostalgia, he wasn’t the Rivers Cuomo you think of in your head. Gone was the sweater he sported during the first set. Removed were his iconic Buddy Holly glasses that inspired the smash hit of the same name. Evaporated completely was any energy and joy he seemed to have for being there.

I can’t blame him for not loving to play those songs. All he’s heard for the last 15 years is how great those songs are, and why can’t he ever write songs like those any more, and seriously is the next album going to have songs that are like the songs I already like? It’s the same reason the Counting Crows stopped playing Mr. Jones, because it’s basically, “Holy shit, enough already about Pinkerton and the Blue album.” He’s a different person now than he was then. He doesn’t feel the things he felt. He doesn’t care that hearing Pinkerton for the first time literally changed your life, or that you connected with it deeply or anything like that. Bob Dylan once said that he doesn’t see why people love Blood on the Tracks so much, because it’s nothing but a man having his heart ripped out for about a dozen songs. So much of Weezer’s early work is like that, and it’s particularly true of Pinkerton. Why should he want to relive it? Unless of course you want to pay through the nose for tickets, then by all means, please enjoy this song about my life being ruined and me hating myself.

But he sure as hell doesn’t have to like it.

So they ran through that detached-but-slavishly-faithful performance of the Blue album. It was a more or less pitch-perfect recreating (except for those stupid songs), and even despite the appalling lack of enthusiasm from Cuomo, it was worth the $70.

I wanted to see Weezer play the Blue album. I got it exactly like I imagined. Weezer got a lot of money for about an hour and a half of work, half of which involved Cuomo standing statue-still playing songs for a bunch of people he probably thinks are real pieces of shit for liking music so obviously based on his pain.

Everyone got what they wanted.

Image courtesy of Barry Chin/ Globe Staff from last night’s show.  Original article/photo found here.

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One thought on “I’d do ’bout anything to get the hell out alive: Rivers Cuomo and Dancing with Who Brought You

  1. The lyrics to “In the Garage” are as follows: “I play my stupid songs,
    I write these stupid words, and I LOVE everyone”.

    I couldn’t imagine that you would know less about music, then you do about hockey. But, sadly, you do.

    How can you cash your yahoo checks with a clean conscious???

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