Baltimore got lucky on St. Patrick’s Day. Both Pixies and Weezer came to Royal Farms Arena, and hundreds of green-clad fans filled the seats to cheer them on, not seeking the traditional forms of holiday merriment, but the grit and gusto of alt rock.
Pixies were up first. Backed with a yellow glow, they launched right into “Where Is My Mind?”, their hit from Surfer Rosa. If you’re sad that you never got to see the original Pixies lineup, don’t feel too down—Black Francis hasn’t lost the passion in his voice, David Lovering and Joey Santiago continue to bring each song to life, and Paz Lenchantin sounds every bit as Kim Deal. The song was a definite highlight—its mingling of acoustic strumming and electric riffing was even more striking than it was on the record. Then it was on to “Nimrod’s Son,” an even earlier track from Come on Pilgrim. Its frenetic riff kept the crowd rapt; its ritardando breakdowns, pierced by Francis’s unleashed laughter and shouts, filled the arena, clearly meant to be heard live. During the rest of the set, new songs were played alongside fan favorites like “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven.” Next, it was time for Weezer to take the stage.
Say what you will about Weezer—they put on a crazy good show. Yeah, Pinkertonwas wack; yeah, The Black Albumwas no Blue Album, and “California Snow” had that weird lyric about “the definition of flow.” So what? Rivers Cuomo can sing—and chances are, if you walk into a Weezer concert with nostalgia in your blood, he can get you singing with him. The “Say It Ain’t So” solo will still shake your bones and make you think dark thoughts of alcohol-fueled deaths; “Beverly Hills” will still make you clap to its buoyant beat.
When I saw them at the arena, just two weeks had passed since the release of Weezer’s newest LP, The Black Album. Thus, walking in, I was skeptical about the setlist. Sure, “Zombie Bastards” would be fun to bounce along to, but would the band sacrifice something as sincere as “Island in the Sun” to promote its banal young cousins “High As A Kite” or “Piece of Cake”? Luckily, the answer was no. Weezer’s setlist largely focused on guitar-heavy hits from its older days, with The Blue Album most represented. Thankfully, no songs from Raditude and Hurley snuck in there. It was strange to see that only one Black Album song (“Living in L.A.”) had made the cut—but considering the volume of Weezer classics we got to hear, that was a minor offense.
Bands tend to come up with some sort of flashy, fun entrance when they play an arena, and Weezer was no exception. The guys strode in front of a curtain and sang “Buddy Holly” in barbershop quartet style, complete with apropos costumes. They left to the Happy Days intro; then the curtain dropped, and they were revealed onstage, jamming out before a backdrop that recreated the one from the “Buddy Holly” video. They proceeded to play the CD version of the song, along with fellow Blue Album classic “My Name is Jonas”; everyone had a good time singing “The workers are going home.” Next, they mixed in some newer material—the climactic White Album single “Thank God for Girls.” The song’s cannoli conceit hasn’t gotten any less strange with time, but Cuomo sang with such groundbreaking passion that it was easy to forgive.
As the night went on, Weezer hopped between quite a few covers, much in the spirit of their recent covers-only Teal Album. “No Scrubs” was a blast. It could never live up to the original TLC song, but it wasn’t trying to—it was simply a lively sing-along to a classic that everyone can enjoy, and enjoy it we did. “Stand by Me,” on the other hand, was gorgeous. Cuomo sang it from a platform that looked like a boat during an acoustic set, right in the center of the audience; without overblown instrumentation, the song’s inimitable sweetness was able to shine through. This was the big lighter-waving moment of the night.
“Take on Me” was entertaining; that famous riff never loses its power. Even better was “Africa,” the wildly corny, but wildly catchy song that put Weezer back in the spotlight in an odd turn of events last year. When the chorus hit, the fans roared, surely giving it a louder reception than any Toto crowd ever did.
The real showstoppers were Weezer’s originals, however. “Beverly Hills” brought us back to 2005 with its easily clappable beat and “gimme, gimme” hook. “Island in the Sun” was pure bliss and longing—a ray of light in the arena darkness. It all led up to “Say It Ain’t So”—the peak of The Blue Album, and perhaps the emotional peak of Weezer’s discography. Every phrase held a bottle’s worth of emotions. You’d never guess that “Flip on the telly/Wrestle with Jimmy” could convey such pain, but sung by thousands, it was heartbreaking. So often, the grand finale at a concert is a happy song; this one was devastating, but triumphant, especially when the “waterslide” of a guitar solo rang out. Don’t let your ambivalence about New Weezer stop you from coming out to their show, if only for that moment.