Music & Nightlife

Concert review: Weezer gets its groove back while diving headlong into ’80s decadence

Weezer, PNC Music Pavilion, Thursday July 26th, 2018
Weezer, PNC Music Pavilion, Thursday July 26th, 2018

Wednesday’s Weezer concert at PNC Music Pavilion was the Weezer show I’d always wanted to see. It was the kind of show I’d only suspected the band had in it at this point in its career.

Of the five previous Weezer concerts I’ve seen, some were good. Some were OK. And some — more recently, in fact — felt like they had become just a job for a band that has cranked out two and a half decades worth of hits (yet whose frontman doesn’t look much older than the boy-man in the thick-rimmed glasses who injected a burst of fun into the grunge-era ’90s).

The same could be said for the Pixies. I’ve seen them good, great, and just OK. Wednesday was a good night. The foursome followed opener Sleigh Bells with a strong setlist heavy on material from its first three releases, “Come on Pilgrim,” “Surfer Rosa” and “Doolittle”; none from 1990’s “Bossanova”; and two standouts from 1992’s “Trompe Le Monde” — “UMass” and “Planet of Sound,” as well as its cover of Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On.”

Bassist Paz Lenchantin sang lead and co-lead on two tracks from 2016’s “Head Carrier” and tackled original bassist Kim Deal’s “Gigantic” (a risk considering how much Deal is missed by fans). Lenchantin pulled it off in a way that quietly honored her predecessor. In fact, I’d felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth as the Pixies chugged toward the finale of “Monkey Gone to Heaven.” But I’d underestimated Weezer.

Its set opened with the “Happy Days” sample from Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” video. As the voice of “Happy Days’” resident cook Al Delvecchio introduced the band, the curtain dropped to reveal the set of Arnold’s from the show — complete with jukebox and ketchup and mustard bottles on the tables — as the band immediately launched into its biggest hit.

With frontman Rivers Cuomo dressed in a tie and cardigan (like in the video), the band charged through hit after hit: “Beverly Hills,” “Pork and Beans,” “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Hash Pipe.” As 2005’s singalong “Perfect Situation” came to a close, stagehands switched over the diner set around the band and a man playing Cuomo’s dad appeared to argue with the singer. Then he ripped off his cardigan to reveal a loose red soccer jersey more fitting to the garage scene that had been erected behind him, with the Kiss, AC/DC and Van Halen posters plastered on its walls.

Cuomo played on the aforementioned boy-man persona throughout the show, even altering his stance, walk and demeanor to match the setting. He appeared particularly awkward and tense at the start, playing up the nerdy role with his hair brushed forward. He leaned into the teenage River role, seeming physically looser for “My Name Is Jonas,” “In the Garage,” “El Scorcho” and a mashup of the Turtles’ “Happy Together” and Green Day’s “Longview.”

He donned a captain’s hat and shirt before sailing into the crowd for “Islands in the Sun.” The crew changed the set again as the audience focused on Cuomo in the crowd. When he reappeared on stage dressed in jeans and a cut-up sleeveless Nirvana tee, the set was more suited to an ’80s rock video complete with pyrotechnics during “Feels Like Summer.”

Again, Cuomo’s body language morphed with the set, his stance wider, fist raised, as if sending up stereotypical rock star moves.

The band ventured further into ’80s decadence with a fairly spot-on (and arguably more impassioned) version of Toto’s “Africa” before returning to encore with “Pink Triangle” and “Say It Ain’t So” — OK maybe that’s actually Weezer’s biggest hit. Regardless, it capped a night of showmanship and singalongs. Few could’ve predicted the former, but as I’ve noticed before, Weezer is in its element playing arena-size venues. It’s one of few bands I’d rather see at an amphitheater than in an intimate club.

Weezer and the Pixies could both tour for the rest of their lives on the strength of their existing catalogs. Plenty of bands do. But Weezer, thankfully, doesn’t seem content to do just that. And maybe the presence of an older, highly regarded alt-rock legend like the Pixies encouraged the band to up its game.

Wednesday’s show was about entertainment, sharing joy, and camaraderie, which is certainly needed right now. Here’s to more of the same in the future.