Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Weezer - Power Pop Stalwarts Hit The Sweet Spot - Manchester Academy, Manchester, 03.04.16

“Good evening,” bespectacled Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo announces, after his band have delivered the strutting, nostalgia-tinged Back to the Shack with the force of a sledgehammer cracking a nut. “We are Weezer, from California.” He pauses, blinking owlishly, and twiddles with a string on his guitar, as if he’s somewhat abashed. “And you are Weezer fans from Manchester, UK,” he adds after a moment, to a rapturously loud reception, and a small smile quirks his lips fleetingly. “Let’s have a good time.”

Cuomo is not, at first glance, a typical rockstar. He cuts the figure of an eternally bookish student; even at 45, he still gives the impression of being an undergraduate as opposed to a member of one of alt-rock’s biggest bands of the past twenty years. Weezer’s self-titled debut cemented their place in the underground; their early-noughties output saw them conquer the mainstream. Yet he has never lost that outsider feeling; a man possessed by universal fears and anxieties in his lyrics, a relatable human figure with a gift on the fretboard and an ear for ridiculously good melodies.
Weezer performing live in Manchester in
2016. (Courtesy of thefourohfive.com)
Their show at Manchester’s spacious Academy is their first UK gig in five years, and corresponds with the release of their tenth album, and fourth self-titled effort (carrying the moniker of The White Album, after other colour-coded releases Blue, Green and Red). In concept a launch show for the record, it is rather a celebration of the catchy grunge-laden power pop that has been the musical focal point of their career since 1994, a breathless eighty-odd minute rush through a collection of songs that are synonymous with college-alt radio and heart-on-sleeve fun.

They don’t skimp on new material though; of their setlist, they cull a quarter from The White Album. Hailed as a return to form, it’s a batch of sun-kissed, lushly harmonious tracks that are received with as much enthusiasm as older material by the overjoyed audience. Opener California Kids is melancholy summer rock that floats breezily, an enchanting little ditty. Thank God for Girls is a riotous, seventies-esque piano stomp, with shades of Queen flamboyance. The brilliantly titled Do You Wanna Get High? is no stoner jam but instead a superb pop-rock gem, augmented by lashings of regal electric organ.

All this fleet-of-foot pop fun would fall flat in the hands of a lesser band but Weezer deliver a truly complete performance to elevate it superbly. Guitarist Brian Bell imbues the grunge-driven anxiety of jangly early cut My Name is Jonas with a speed-freak thrash and later sings Pinkerton-era B-side You Gave Your Love to Me Softly with pleading intensity. Scott Shriner, on bass, injects a delicious funk-palate that riffs on The Jam’s Town Called Malice during urgent hookup anthem (If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To, whilst drummer Patrick Wilson delivers a pleasingly laid-back beat for emo cornerstone Say It Ain’t So that anchors it in an almost dreamy fashion.
Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, performing live in
Manchester in 2016. (Courtesy of thefourohfive.com)
Though not particularly extravagant, Cuomo is understandably the focal point of the group, and does not disappoint. During the creeping, crunching riff of Hash Pipe, he delivers an effortless metal falsetto that soars up and down with an edgy unease and emo anthem El Scorcho sees him conduct the crowd with miniscule nods. He pays tribute to local rock legends Oasis during Troublemaker, throwing in a snippet of Champagne Supernova during its scuzzy intro. He may not display his neurosis and eccentricities as much anymore; but Cuomo lets his skills do the talking, in an impressively self-assured display of musicianship.

All three click together superbly during instrumental number The Waste Land, all tremoring notes and moody atmospherics, and bring the house down with a delicately-strummed Undone – The Sweater Song that builds to a violently chaotic climax, as Cuomo and Bell raise their guitars aloft in a silent salute. They encore with the arena-glam-rock of Beverly Hills before bidding a final goodnight with a sweaty, raucous Buddy Holly that ignites Manchester into frenzied dancing. “We’ll be seeing you at Reading, Leeds, Glastonbury, at all your festivals!” Cuomo shouts, a small grin gracing his lips. There’s definitely a feeling that wherever they do end up, they’ll rock just as much there as here.

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