Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo isn’t your typical rock star. He keeps a Google Sheets database of lyrics, tagged by rhyme and meter. He sticks to a strict writing schedule: Monday’s for words, Tuesday is melodies, verses, and structure, and Wednesday’s all about new hooks. He’s clearly no slacker either, having released six albums since 2008. Oh, and he wears a sweater vest (without irony) for the band’s debut headline performance at Wembley Arena tonight.
But looks (and work ethic) can be deceiving. Cuomo and his three bandmates may never rival KISS in the rock ‘n roll showmanship stakes, but even without pyro, smoke machines, platform boots, and make-up, Weezer have absolutely no trouble connecting with each and every one of the 12 000 people who’ve turned up to see them.
It’s partly down to the arena-appropriate staging, like the giant Weezer logo lit up in Broadway-style lights, the confetti cannons, and the massive HD video screen behind them showing classic American cereal commercials, vintage surfing footage, retro eight-bit graphics, iconic British women (from Amy Winehouse to JK Rowling), and day-glo animations (not all at the same time).
It’s partly down to Cuomo himself. The musician freely admits live performances aren’t his favourite part of the job, but he throws himself into the role of front man with as much enthusiasm as his singing and playing. Whether he’s coming to the front of the stage for guitar solos, thrusting his microphone towards the audience or using it to play air drums, simply holding his arms wide open as if to embrace the crowd, donning a sombrero for Beverly Hills, or joking about the people who turned up at their hotel to see the soccer team (not the touring US rock band) staying there, he never loses that vital human touch.
But mostly the connection is down to the spreadsheet-collated songs themselves. With its sunny reggae verses, indie-rock choruses, and Green Day namecheck, set opener El Scorcho isn’t just the sole representative of 1996’s stellar Pinkerton album, but the perfect introduction to a night of feel-good music that, for all its bright major chords, is often undercut by weighty, soul-baring sentiments.
Like In The Garage, one of several tracks from 1994’s self-titled debut LP (aka the “Blue” album), which pairs chunky guitars and a noodly solo with its self-effacing line of “I write these stupid words”. Or Island In The Sun from 2001’s self-titled LP (aka the “Green” album) that matches the brightest tune this side of the Caribbean with a world-weary vocal that’s somewhat less than sunny.
Although such layered nuances can easily get lost in a show of this size, Cuomo’s hooks and melodies never run that risk. Crafted to fill arenas, that’s exactly what they do, from Pixies homage Undone – The Sweater Song to hip-hop rocker Pork And Beans (complete with the lines “everyone likes to dance to a happy song, with a catchy chorus and beat so they can sing along”).
As if to prove the point, even Happy Hour and Feels Like Summer, the two songs from brand new Top 40-leaning album Pacific Daydream are more contagious than the joyous rendition of Outkast’s Hey Ya! that slips easily into this sleek set of muscular pop music.
And the big hooks just keep coming, so by the time Buddy Holly and the confetti cannons come out to close the show, Wembley Arena has been well and truly bowled over by the man with the sweater vest and catalogue of irresistible songs.
Ash, tonight’s main support act, have a couple of instantly memorable tunes in their arsenal too and singer-guitarist Tim Wheeler relishes leading the trio through some of their biggest. During a whirlwind 11-song set, the band who’ve shared stages with Weezer since 1996, rip into the likes of Goldfinger, Kung Fu, Girl From Mars, and the once ubiquitous Oh Yeah. They leave the audience wanting more, but Wheeler promises they’ll be back, and soon.
Live review of Weezer @ Wembley Arena by Nils van der Linden on 28th October 2017. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.