[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s hard to think of a band that has gone through as many identity crises leading to polarizing receptions throughout its career as Weezer. At the height of grunge in 1994, while labels were scraping the bottom of the barrel by signing the likes of Bush and Candlebox to fill out the genre, the band released its eponymous debut, an amalgamation of melodic Beach Boys-esque pop, Pixies power chords and ’70s reverence with a glossy production sheen. It was about as anti-Seattle-sounding as it gets, and while at first despised and even dismissed, even the haters found it hard to resist the sugary hooks of “Say It Ain’t So” and “Buddy Holly.”
The hard-fought fight to be taken as a viable musical entity came crashing down with the abrupt failure of the follow-up, Pinkerton, considered at best to be the epitome of the dreaded sophomore slump and at worst the sound of a dispensable band out of ideas. Notorious for his “I’m an artist and no one gets me” emotional sways, frontman Rivers Cuomo focused on his sporadic studies at Harvard University and threw himself into a songwriting that ran concurrent with a depression, making it five years until the next Weezer record came out.
By then, Pinkerton had been resurrected as a primary influence on the emo genre in addition to acts like Jimmy Eat World and Nada Surf and re-examined as a misunderstood classic.
Re-emerging with their second self-titled release (eventually known as “The Green Album”) and fueled by massive exposure on MTV, 2001 saw Weezer as the ultimate comeback kids. A new generation discovered them, old fans rejoiced and those who didn’t get it the first time around claimed to be advocates all along of the crisp pop sounds represented in “Photograph,” “Island in the Sun” and “Don’t Let Go.” 2001 summer single “Hash Pipe” became a rock radio staple that would have a playlist shelf-life lasting through the next decade.
Post-“Green Album,” things got weird; replacement bass player Mikey Welsh went AWOL due to a nervous breakdown, Cuomo turned to the fans to help choose material for the guitar heavy next release, Maladroit, a move that led to strained relations with Geffen Records. Disagreements with their record label continued with The Lion and the Witch EP, and all of the sudden Weezer were the spunky little band going against the big, bad commerce-driven suits in the name of creativity.
But having waged (and for the most part won) the battles to be taken seriously, to have their work accepted and appreciated, to wrest control from label execs and to find stability in the bass player position eventually took its toll. The next four albums were a mishmash of flat out suck and flashes of brilliance. When you’re pooping out songs with titles like “Everybody Get Dangerous” (2008, from yet another self-titled album), “I’m Your Daddy” (2009, from the awfully named Raditude), and “Where’s My Sex” (2010, from Hurley – named for the Lost character and featuring the actor who portrayed him as the ridiculous cover art), it’s bound to get questionable.
Also head-scratching was Cuomo’s decision to start collaborating with other songwriters, among them Jermaine Dupri, Semisonic’s Dan Wilson and Bon Jovi/Meat Loaf/Aerosmith collaborator Desmond Child.
At what point do you just give up?
That leads, sadly, to the live show, which has always been fairly solid despite repetitive set lists on each tour. That last vestige of hope went out the window Monday night at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. It started off fine enough with “My Name is Jonas,” but then it got downright obnoxious, song and otherwise. There was the hit parade of “We Are All On Drugs,” “Hash Pipe,” “Pork and Beans,” and “Beverly Hills,” with the argument that they were required listening being a distinct possibility, yet leaving the door open for some deep diving into the catalog. No luck there.
Instead, there was the delivery of paint by numbers drivel like “Troublemaker” and the horrid gimmick piece “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn),” the latter audaciously slotted as an encore.
The most grating part, however, was the goofy pandering that was prevalent throughout the set.
Look, Weezer have never been a stare at your Chuck Taylors and mope about how bad life sucks band when it came to performing, but Cuomo’s geeky rocker shtick, and shtick is about all it amounts to these days, has grown beyond tired. Intoning his best nerd voice imitation for stage banter all night and doling out unfunny lines like, “We just love New Hamster; this is New Hamster right?” was flat-out corny. As were the frontman’s mock rock god-posing with his guitar stances that are blatantly tongue-in-cheek and received well-enough by the blind faithful that he did it multiple times throughout the show, perhaps never realizing how condescending it all comes off.
Maybe it’s me. But the version of =w= I saw on their tour for the first album is nothing like the 2013 model, and not in a good way. And I’m thinking teen me would’ve bemoaned the banality of this current attempt, put them right up there with Smash Mouth or Barenaked Ladies, and slinked back to my Joy Division and Cure records, bummed out that this is the music that is supposed to matter.
Unfortunately, there’s a built in audience that eats it all up, encouraging the band and Cuomo to keep bringing the dork factor to heights of mind numbing cheese. “The more clownish the better” seems to be the motto, but at what cost? These days, Weezer have become such a cartoon version of themselves, sharply veering off Ironic Street and plowing miles into Caricature-of-our-former-selves Valley.
There were still some hints of yesteryear at Hampton Beach, though they came mostly from dialing up older numbers like “El Scorcho.” But the majority was phoned in so badly that it made perfunctory (and not giving a shit about his craft these days) actor Al Pacino’s last 10 films look like Serpico.
Is there a way out of this? Yeah, stop writing with that chick from 4 Non Blondes, start thinking about half-Japanese girls and pink triangles and pull the kooky behavior back just a little bit.
Then, at the end of the show, when you make the Weezer symbol at the edge of the stage, it might mean something.