After a short set from Seattle’s Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head, a hush fell over 250 San Franciscans crowded into the Regency Ballroom. Everyone in attendance knew what band they were here to see at this small-venue MySpace Secret Show. But with the large makeover Weezer have undergone in the last few years, and the year-long break since their last batch of concerts, the silence indicated that not everyone knew which version of Weezer they were about to watch. Playing in a tiny space to an eager crowd, would the awkward nerd-rockers of the mid-’90s return or would we see more of the brazen rock star ‘tudes and pop-tastic tunes of recent records?
When the lights cut out and flashed back on to the opening distortion crunch of “Perfect Situation,” the crowd got its answer: Neither.
Fresh from recording their soon-to-be-released seventh full-length Raditude, Weezer is larger than ever before. As the rest of the world is about to discover, much like frontman Rivers Cuomo’s heroes Kiss, Weezer take 100% seriously their mission to rock. Past turns at total rock-stardom have been less than convincing, but this time around Cuomo and Co. seem hell-bent on playing the part.
The most notable piece of Weezer’s new look is the addition of drummer Josh Freese of The Vandals and A Perfect Circle. Original drummer Pat Wilson has switched to lead guitar, taking over for Cuomo who now mostly sings. The band was also decked out in matching white Nike sweatsuits, and had a stage full of instruments including three keyboards and multiple guitars.
Early on the boys burned through old favorites “Say It Ain’t So,” “Why Bother,” and “My Name is Jonas,” as well as new radio hit “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To,” to set the tone for a raucous singalong. The Green Album’s “Photograph” was blended with a cover of Blur’s “Song 2,” causing the crowd to erupt in bouncing that shook the old venue’s wooden floors. The rest of the set was a mix of catchy hits “Pork and Beans,” “Island in the Sun,” and “Beverly Hills,” Radititude cuts “Can’t Stop Partying” and “I’m Your Daddy,” and an encore medley of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” MGMT’s “Kids” and The Blue Album classic “Buddy Holly.” Through more than an hour, the sweating crowd never stopped bopping, fist-pumping, or screaming along at the top of their lungs.
While Weezer have always been entertaining, this show felt completely different. With Cuomo freed from playing guitar he constantly prowled the stage, screaming lyrics and looking for props to amuse the crowd. When not high-fiving audience members or swinging his microphone stand above his head, he was smashing beer cans on his skull, twirling thrown bras, and spitting water on the front row. It was Gene Simmons’ trademark dramatics in full effect, and after many attempts Cuomo seems to have perfected the role.
Whether channeling Ozzy Osborne or themselves circa 1992, every song was monstrously loud and full of energy. Along with Cuomo, band members Brian Bell, Scott Shriner and Wilson formed a wall across the front of the stage, peppering the crowd and hamming it up during solos. Rather than just playing, the band didn’t seem happy unless the audience boogied along with equal abandon.
Weezer have come a long way from 1992, when Cuomo used to awkwardly perform certain songs with his back to the crowd. Although many are nostalgic for that endearing nerdiness of the past, this latest transformation is thrilling, albeit completely different. Dedicated to making their shows an all-out party, Weezer have turned the corner on their transition from dorky garage rockers to full-blown arena rockers. The next time they’re in your town, be ready to sing along. Loudly.