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Inside Weezer’s Set List Science

Rivers Cuomo takes us through the alt-rock veterans’ concert philosophy, from “Buddy Holly” to “Africa” and beyond. Plus: Why he’s excited about Weezer’s upcoming ‘Black Album’

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - AUGUST 07:  Vocalist Rivers Cuomo of Weezer performs at Shoreline Amphitheatre on August 7, 2018 in Mountain View, California.  (Photo by Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images)MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - AUGUST 07:  Vocalist Rivers Cuomo of Weezer performs at Shoreline Amphitheatre on August 7, 2018 in Mountain View, California.  (Photo by Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images)

Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, 2018.

Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images

Rivers Cuomo is at his home studio in Southern California when he picks up the phone on a recent afternoon. “That’s where I am, all day, every day,” says the Weezer frontman, 48. “Always working on songs, and now computer programming, too.”

The songs are for Weezer’s latest self-titled LP, known to fans as the Black Album. A few months ahead of its March 1st release date, the band is deep in sessions with producer Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio. “It’s so cool, man,” Cuomo says. “Dave is close to our age, but he’s from the completely other side of the alternative Nineties. His point of reference is more Beck and the Beastie Boys, which is so different from where I was coming from with the Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins side of alt-rock. I’m stoked.”

And the coding? Just the latest in a lifetime of quixotic intellectual hobbies. Cuomo has spent the last three years enrolled in an online Intro to Computer Science course through his alma mater, Harvard University. “I’m finally about to finish it, and I’ve learned so much,” he tells me. “It’s pretty much taken over my life. I’ve written all kinds of programs to help me with creativity, and also to help optimize the bus routing on the next tour. Of course, the holy grail of programs for me is the set list generator.”

Until that day, he’ll keep making Weezer set lists the old-fashioned way. Here’s how Cuomo put together the song order for the band’s August 17th, 2018 show at the Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee.

“Buddy Holly” (1994)

Weezer used to save their most iconic hit until the last song of the night, but lately they’ve discovered it works even better as an opener. “It’s a high-energy, fun pop song that everybody knows,” he says. “It reminds people who we are, where we came from, and how much we all love this band.”

“Beverly Hills” (2005)

Next up: Another big hit to keep the energy up. “It’s been interesting to see the evolution of our audience over the years,” Cuomo muses. “One of the general impressions I have is that kids today are better dancers. It’s so much fun to watch the audience now when ‘Beverly Hills’ kicks in — everyone has these great moves. It really lifts my spirits, no matter what’s been going on earlier in the day.”

“Pork and Beans” (2008)

The opening run continues with this rebellious anthem from Weezer’s Red Album. “Sometimes I have this sad story I tell myself that any song from as late as 2008 isn’t vintage enough to really blow away the audience,” Cuomo says. “But that one is really resonating with kids right now.”

He has his own reasons for enjoying “Pork and Beans” more these days, he adds. “I recently started swearing. So on the last line of that song, instead of saying, ‘I don’t give a hoot about what you think,’ I say, ‘I don’t give a fuck about what you think,’ and I stick up my middle fingers. It just happened one night at a show, and it felt hilarious, so I kept doing it.”

“Perfect Situation” (2005)

Costume change! Up until this point, the band has been performing on a replica of the Happy Days set used in the “Buddy Holly” video. After Cuomo’s guitar solo at the end of this Make Believe single (“a big rockstar moment”), longtime Weezer sidekick Karl Koch runs onstage, tears off the frontman’s cardigan and necktie, and throws them into a washing machine waiting there. “Under the ‘Buddy Holly’ costume is the outfit I’m wearing in the ‘Sweater Song’ video,” Cuomo explains. “It’s a soccer jersey for the team in Veracruz, Mexico. The crowd recognizes that, and they go nuts.”

“El Scorcho” (1996)

With a new stage set in place — this one looks like a garage with Kiss posters on the wall — they break out this fan favorite from 1996’s Pinkerton. “For years, we didn’t play any songs from that album in our shows, so I’m sure by this point in the set, some fans might be worried,” Cuomo says. “It’s such an incredible joy for me to hear how into it the crowd is. In the first years of touring that album, it was just, like, crickets. It was really depressing. Now, they’re all singing along with Brian [Bell] on the guitar solo.”

“Happy Together” (Turtles cover)

By now, with the crowd won over, they’re free to throw some real curveballs, like this cover of the Turtles’ sunshine-pop hit, mixed up with a snippet of Green Day’s “Longview.” Cuomo began playing the two songs together at a recent solo acoustic show in San Francisco, and it stuck. “Those are my two favorite decades of music, the Sixties and the Nineties,” he says. “It feels so right.”

“Burndt Jamb” (2002)

After piloting a boat on wheels to a small stage in the middle of the crowd, where he performs acoustic versions of “Island in the Sun” and A-ha’s “Take on Me,” Cuomo sails back to the mainstage. The rest of the band vamps on this Maladroit deep cut while he’s on his way back. “The other guys picked that,” Cuomo says. “I can only speculate as to why.”

Weezer setlist sample - shot by Sacha Lecca

A rendering of songs played by Weezer on August 17th at Milwaukee’s Eagles Ballroom. Photograph by Sacha Lecca

Sacha Lecca

“Feels Like Summer” (2017)

“For me, that’s the most fun song to play,” Cuomo says. “It’s got this massive groove to it, and that’s when we turn on all the pyro. Each blast raises the temperature around me by about 30 degrees.”

“Africa” (2018)

The main set closes with Weezer’s surprise-smash Toto cover. “What can you say about ‘Africa’?” Cuomo says. “Even apart from the Weezer version, that song is such a massive phenomenon. It’s literally the biggest song from the 20th century, in terms of how much people listen to it! The Beatles, Michael Jackson, they’re all dwarfed by Toto’s ‘Africa.'” (A quick glance at public Spotify numbers suggests that this checks out.)

Even so, he wasn’t expecting the cover to become Weezer’s biggest hit in a decade, ultimately topping the alternative radio airplay chart this summer. “We knew it would get a lot of traffic online for a minute, but within 24 hours, all these radio stations started playing it. We didn’t send it to any radio stations to work it as a single. It just exploded on its own. We had to stand there on the sidelines with everyone else and watch as it won the game.”

Adds Cuomo: “I love the song, so I’m happy to play it. But you can definitely see this divide between the young people, who for whatever mysterious reason love that song, and the older Weezer fans, who are like, ‘OK, this is strange.’ ”

“Pink Triangle” (1996)

“This is a wild card,” Cuomo says of the first song in Weezer’s Milwaukee encore. “It was fun to be back in a relatively small room. Everyone’s just packed in, sweaty and steamy, rocking out to a Pinkerton deep cut. What more could you ask for?”

“Say It Ain’t So” (1994)

“I guess there’s one more thing you could ask for: ‘Say It Ain’t So,’ ” Cuomo adds. “You’ve experienced so much emotion throughout the set. That’s the only song left that could take it to an even heavier place.”

Weezer U.S. tour dates:

3/8/19 Louisville, KY @ KFC Yum! Center
3/10/19 Columbia, SC @ Colonial Life Arena
3/12/19 New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
3/13/19 Montreal, QC @ Bell Centre
3/14/19 Albany, NY @ Times Union Center
3/16/19 Mashantucket, CT @ Foxwoods Resort Casino
3/17/19 Baltimore, MD @ Royal Farms Arena
3/19/19 Columbus, OH @ Schottenstein Center
3/20/19 Grand Rapids, MI @ Van Andel Arena
3/22/19 Memphis, TN @ FedEx Forum
3/24/19 St. Louis, MO @ Enterprise Center
3/26/19 Kansas City, MO @ Sprint Center
3/27/19 Tulsa, OK @ BOK Center
3/28/19 Des Moines, IA @ Wells Fargo Arena
3/30/19 St. Paul, MN @ Xcel Energy Center
3/31/19 Madison, WI @ Alliant Energy Center
4/5/19 Nampa, ID @ Ford Idaho Center Arena
4/6/19 Portland, OR @ Moda Center
4/7/19 Vancouver, BC @ Rogers Arena
4/9/19 Sacramento, CA @ Golden 1 Center
4/10/19 Oakland, CA @ Oracle Arena
4/12/19 Las Vegas, NV @ Mandalay Bay Event Center

In This Article: Rivers Cuomo, Weezer


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