Rivers Cuomo kicked a soccer ball on stage as Weezer began its Memories Tour concert Friday night, the first of a sold-out, two-night stand at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom. The band launched into the tour's namesake song: "Memories" from the band's eighth and most recent album, "Hurley." "All the memories," Cuomo sang. "How can we make it back there? / I want to be there again."
This tour is about realizing that desire. "Hop on board the Weezer time machine!" Cuomo said, as he began introducing each song in the band's set of hits in reverse chronological order. Each night of this brief tour there's also a second set, a complete performance of one of the band's first two albums; Friday's time trip ended in a deadpan run through the band's 1994 self-titled debut, a k a "The Blue Album." Saturday night the band is scheduled to wrap with the once-controversial 1996 "Pinkerton" album.
(And here's a review from the Saturday night "Pinkerton" show.)
• 7:30 p.m. Saturday [Jan. 8]
• Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence
• Sold out
Whatever your current opinion of "Pinkerton" -- a flop upon release but recently rechristened as a misunderstood alt-rock classic (whatever) -- it can only be evaluated in comparison to "The Blue Album." In an interview last fall, Cuomo admitted the dark direction of "Pinkerton" was a direct response to criticism of the band's cheery, cheeky debut. (Yes, there were negative reviews, some of which were shown in slides during Friday's intermission.) Cuomo also confessed to consuming his own press, poring over online reviews, paying careful attention to the applause level for certain songs, and then crafting set lists -- and each next album -- accordingly. That makes "The Blue Album" the band's only honest statement, the only album that wasn't a calculated appeasement of a previous one.
Cuomo aims to please, and Friday he desperately entertained the crowd. As his band ground through 10 radio favorites, Cuomo was everywhere -- climbing on amps, climbing on the drum riser, climbing into the balcony, pretending to play the Aragon's organ, kicking toilet paper rolls off the head of a security guy, smashing a ukulele. He started "Island in the Sun" on stage alone, leading the crowd in the hep-heps; once the band joined him, he dropped his guitar and unceremoniously kicked it into the wings. Troublemaker, indeed.
But before the world turned and left him here, Cuomo was not such a showman, not so eager to please. He illustrated this with a fine bit of Method acting in the second set. After that manic first half, Cuomo returned wearing the blue T-shirt from the "Blue Album" cover. His glasses were gone. His boyishness remains Dick Clark-scary. He strapped on his guitar, stood at the mike, bowed his head -- and hardly moved for the next 45 minutes. He was that shy guy again, singing with conviction, "I don't care what they say about us, anyway / I don't care 'bout that."
The band was more stoic, too. The "Blue" songs aren't flashy. Guitarist Brian Bell had more to strum, less to shred. As such, they hit harder, like those simple but colossal riffs from "Say It Ain't So" humbling and fearful after the idiocy of, say, "Beverly Hills." No stage antics required. Saturday's run through "Pinkerton" no doubt will be tortured and emotional, but give me these power chords and geek anthems over that overwrought angst any day of the week.
FRIDAY NIGHT'S SET LIST
"If You're Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To)"
"Pork and Beans"
"Keep Fishin' "
"Island in the Sun"
"Falling for You"
"My Name Is Jonas"
"No One Else"
"The World Has Turned and Left Me Here"
"Undone - The Sweater Song"
"Surf Wax America"
"Say It Ain't So"
"In the Garage"
"Only in Dreams"