By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times
Last Modified: Jan 9, 2011 09:16PM
How did Rivers Cuomo, a guy who looks like Rick Moranis and who sings about sexual frustration and reluctant fame, end up one of the most beloved rock stars of his generation?
He successfully turned his band Weezer into a well-oiled franchise padded by self-induced myth and clever branding. Once an anomaly in the grunge era, this little band is now almost grandfatherly, headlining major rock festivals and using nostalgia to illustrate just how much it remained relevant throughout almost two decades of revolutionary change in the music industry and fads that came and went.
Endurance became the mission statement of this current “Memories” tour, which repurposes the Weezer brand as accessible and classic.
Concertgoers at the Aragon Saturday, the second of two nights, were handed special horn-rimmed glasses so everyone could have the Cuomo look while standing before the man himself. An intermission featured kids from a suburban School of Rock performing Weezer songs. A slide show hosted by Karl Koch, a chuckling band associate, guided viewers through the band’s early days using pictures of handmade concert bills and studio photos.
Thankfully, the self-referential overkill became ancillary when it came time for the band to actually play. The night’s first half capitalized on the best of what Weezer has to offer: snarling pop songs that sound too big to be contained in one sitting. During “Perfect Situation,” Cuomo directed his audience to sing the wordless chorus, “like they were in a cathedral,” but even then it didn’t seem big enough.
The band, including guitarists Pat Wilson and Brian Bell and skip-stepping bassist Scott Shrine (plus touring drummer Josh Freese), first played a setlist that counted backward, starting with “Hurley,” (Geffen), and ending with Weezer’s self-titled 1994 debut, also known as The Blue Album. [The band devoted its Friday show to that album.]
The 16-year journey backward showed a band bouncing between extremes in a matter of years. Crisp power pop (“You Gave Your Love to Me Softly”) was ushered beside ironic anthems (“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”). The slowest and most experimental song (“Only in Dreams”) happened to be the last performed and also the oldest played. Weezer’s de-evolution (as Devo might call it) showed a band that in its early days was willing to tweak convention but ended up more self-conscious as the years went by.
The second half was a song-by-song re-creation of “Pinkerton,” the band’s 1996 album that was brushed aside the year it came out but is since regarded as the band’s most ambitious effort.
Performing them was a different band that opened. This Weezer was less animated and more sober-toned. Cuomos, shed of his frames, stayed put behind his microphone as opposed to earlier in the night, when he spent much of the set on the floor in the audience or hunched over atop stage monitors.
Because this was Weezer, the “Pinkerton” songs had majestic choruses, but they were messier and less crafted, which puts into question why this dark horse is even considered special. There were dirges (“Getchoo”) and dense, sloppy pop songs (“Pink Triangle”) but playing them, the band looked guarded and intent on getting it over with as soon as possible. Who could blame them: the dark period “Pinkerton” represents for Weezer was just a temporary stop in what turned out to be an otherwise charmed career.