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Consider: After their self-titled breakthrough (now known as “The Blue Album”), which was a mainstay of MTV and radio, they followed up with Pinkerton, a collection of quirky, not-as-immediate songs many considered career suicide. Since then, they’ve released inconsistent power-pop album after inconsistent power-pop album, each with a hit or two but otherwise falling, generally, into a realm of unremarkability.
So why, in music lover circles, are they still relevant? Somehow in the past decade in a half, that second record, Pinkerton, has gone from being considered the band’s career albatross to its creative zenith. It’s an album full of cathartic, unrequited love songs that have garnered (deserved) credit for birthing the emo movement and have given a generation of geeks consolation when caught on the losing end of an imbalanced relationship. It stands in stark contrast to its predecessor, “The Blue Album,” which spawned hits like “Buddy Holly” and “Undone (The Sweater Song)” that have become massive radio touchstones.
Over two nights at the Gibson Ampitheatre, at the launch of a short string of dates they’re calling the “Memories” tour, Weezer explored both parts of their legacy, blasting through “The Blue Album” front-to-back on Friday and Pinkerton on Saturday — a nostalgia act mimicking the industrywide trend of touring behind classic albums (think: The Pixies’ Doolitle tour; Sonic Youth playing Daydream Nation). Though it’s a move that could be seen as milking Gen X dollars (the nearly sold out shows were held at a venue with capacity of 6,000-plus, twice the size of the Palladium in Hollywood, where Weezer stopped on their last traditional tour), it actually felt more like a convention of bespectacled like-minded souls indulging their inner 15-year-old while relishing in their devotion for a band that’s proven to be on par with other successful ’90s holdovers like Green Day and Foo Fighters.
That they are. Over the course of both the full album sets (as well as an opening set, each night, of more modern hits, as well as the occasional B-side), Weezer proved that their songs are not only worthy of their legacy, but stand up against just about any of the current crop of radio hitmakers as well. Night 1’s surprisingly raggedy “Blue Album” set not only showcased those aforementioned hits but “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here,” played live for the first time since 1996 in a smoldering bout of melody with a chug-like impenetrable guitar riff, and “Surf Wax America,” whose shout-along “You take your car to work/I’ll take my board” can be reinterpreted as recession-era escapisim.
Though strapped to his guitar for the second set, Cuomo — long regarded as shy and hermit-like — found his way into the audience during the first, singing “Hash Pipe” midcrowd even while being assaulted by scores of fans. Cuomo also invited Lost actor Jorge Garcia (whose face alone is the cover of Weezer’s newest album, Hurley) onstage to sing the recent hit “If You’re Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To),” looking like an elf next to the actor’s ample, hirsute body.
Still, all that, along with a slideshow each night showcasing the early stages of the band’s career and a cameo by Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast, who opened, on “Island in the Sun,” was build-up to the second night’s run-through of Pinkerton, a record once dismissed by Cuomo, which the mainstream barely knows but has become a fan favorite. Many of its songs hadn’t been played by the band in years. Fittingly, even with the album’s running time of 34 and a half minutes, it was tighter and more meaningful than “The Blue Album” set.
Guitarist Brian Bell seemed particularly involved, nailing the guitar breaks on “The Good Life” and headbanging his way through “El Scorcho,” far and away the two-night run’s emotional peak. For the last song, the soft, heartbreaking “Butterfly,” the stage’s backside was removed, letting the sound out into the open air. It’s an apt metaphor: For the better part of two decades, the magic of Pinkerton — and, with it, Weezer’s legacy as more than just by-the-books hitmakers — has been bottled up.
Apparently, everyone’s in agreement: Now’s the time to let it out.
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