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SXSW: An intimate evening with Weezer is a sing-along trip down memory lane

Like so many who grew up in the ’90s, I remember my experience with The Blue Album. It was impossibly cool — a foundational pillar for my budding teenage musical persona and probably the first not completely embarrassing thing I owned on CD. (Sorry, Spin Doctors’ “Pocket Full of Kryptonite.”)

Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, right, and Brian Bell perform at Brazos Hall during the South by Southwest Music Festival on Friday, March 17, 2017, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP)

But like all things cool, the album and the band eventually started seeming a little less cool. As I grew and it aged, the charming Blue Album began to feel simple and silly compared to the darker Pinkerton, and by the time of the disappointment that came with The Green Album the Blue Album made its way from my CD player to a bookshelf and eventually to a box in the closet. Memories were stirred with every “oh-we-oh-we-oh-we-oh” of “Undone – The Sweater Song” at karaoke or the plastic guitar clicking and off-key screaming of “Say It Ain’t So” in Rock Band sessions, but that box and memory were left to gather dust as Weezer and I went our separate ways.

In my super-scientific survey of others in my generation, many who were weaned on the big W have followed a similar relationship trajectory with the band. But Weezer has continued to produce new music (they’re approaching 11 albums now) and go on tours, and we’ve gone on to sell stuff or edit Excel spreadsheets or do whatever it is we do.

Then one day I hear Weezer is coming to SXSW so — what they heck, why not — there I am in Brazos Hall at midnight on a Friday with 899 other people, one of whom is Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. As revisiting and reevaultaing emo still seems to be all the rage (see: warm receptions for At the Drive-In and Trail of Dead earlier this week), why not revisit the gateway drug to that genre for so many?

PHOTOS: Weezer at SXSW on March 17

Outside, in a bit of a SXSW miracle for credential-less music-lovers, general admission entry for the show was allowed earlier in the night (for $40). But lines outside for the relatively small capacity venue began to slow to a halt two hours before the band went on, with even “don’t you know who I am?” types being turned back to the queued masses.

Inside, Brazos Hall felt relatively open, as fans forced to the front to be near the stage, a stage that is a little lower than ideal in a packed house situation. But seeing the small size of the venue and realizing the size of the act about to take that stage did make for one of those rare “only at SXSW” moments.

And like that Cuomo walked out in a green varsity jacket with a seafoam electric guitar. The crowd erupted. Cuomo puts off a Rick Moranis meets Marty McFly vibe in the flesh and looked largely unaged as he ripped into set opener “Hash Pipe.”

“It’s really awesome to be here,” Cuomo said. “This is our first time at SXSW. We should have come back in ’95.” That would have been something, but better late than never.

Weezer’s power pop (like the un-powered variety) can seem simple but depends upon a difficult to pin down alchemy to produce pop gold. But injecting plenty of oohs and nah nahs into your songs can help your odds at ensuring the recipe is a success. Weezer’s reliance on this approach made their set ripe for audience singing, and Cuomo expertly cued the crowd as needed (and the sea of outstretched hands replied in one voice).

This came in handy when, after a few songs, audience attention seemed to be fading and chatting increased. As the set turned the corner into its second half Blue Album heavy-hitters compelled the crowd to shut up and pipe up. With the opening notes of “Undone – The Sweater Song” phones and eyes lit up for a full-song sing-along from fans, one of many similar moments throughout the night.

With the final guitar feedback from “Buddy Holly” still blaring, Cuomo dove into the crowd with arms outstretched then returned to stage and joined the band for a bow.

Encore on the mind, unified chants of “Weezer” bellowed out the second the band left the stage — chants that were quickly drowned out by house music and bright “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” overhead lights.

Setlist

  • “Hash Pipe”
  • “Pork and Beans”
  • “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”
  • “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly”
  • “Perfect Situation”
  • “Beverly Hills”
  • “Feels Like Summer”
  • “Undone – The Sweater Song”
  • “Island in the Sun” (with intro)
  • “King of the World”
  • “Say It Ain’t So”
  • “Buddy Holly”

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