Weezer could write volumes on pop psychology — in their case, the dynamics behind male songwriters who struggle to balance a love for the perfectly crafted pop song and the equally insistent desire to thrash and wail with no form at all. Who waver between the extremes of complete insecurity and uncertainty that endears them to the angst-ridden indie/emo rock set, and the solid assurance and machismo of their cock rock heroes. Who try to integrate their maleness and femaleness without being too androgynous, or God forbid, too boring. All of this, and more, was on display as Weezer staged a triumphant return Wednesday at New York’s Irving Plaza, after dropping out of sight for nearly three years.
Glimpses of frontman Rivers Cuomo’s anxieties were readily apparent — asking the crowd to help him decide the set list, for one. His appearance, resembling a younger Rick Moranis with his thick, clunky Clark Kent glasses and a buttoned-up-to-the-collar shirt, didn’t exactly yell “rock star.” But that’s part of Weezer’s daily dose of irony — you never know, nor are you supposed to — if it’s entirely an act or not.
With a flashing giant “W” sign behind Pat Wilson’s drum kit, Weezer opened with the dynamic “My Name Is Jonas,” setting the stage for songs to follow that would somehow manage to maintain the fine line between being gentle and propulsive. Raising his fists and guitar with the punctuating “yeah, yeah, yeah,” Cuomo turned the song’s lyrics into declarations — as if the repetition of “still making noise” signaled Weezer’s own comeback.
Though new bassist Mikey Welsh doesn’t harmonize as well as his predecessor Matt Sharp (of the Rentals), he actually provided a necessary contrast to Cuomo’s self-consciousness. Clearly at ease with himself, he would strike poses without irony, turning his back and playing bass while standing on the drum raisers, swiveling his hips in a pseudo-suggestive manner. Guitarist Brian Bell added to these postures, flashing his movie-star smile and spreading his lanky legs, but it didn’t seem as overtly sexual as Welsh’s playing did.
With that contrast clearly set up — Welsh as alpha male id, Cuomo as fragile male ego — Weezer pumped up and powered through “In the Garage,” the band’s answer to Brian Wilson’s “In My Room,” which explains their psychology better than any of their songs. Closet Kiss fans who resort to crafting meticulously arranged songs to feel safe? If that’s not repression, nothing is.
Say what you like about the new songs, but repressed they are not. In, for instance, the terse “Your Sister,” Cuomo confesses to obsessions better left to be analyzed by Freud (“Why am I so hung up on your mom?” is one sample lyric) — not that anything Cuomo says in terms of his preferences in regards to the female gender should come to any surprise to anyone who’s ever read Weezer’s lyrics. The most telling difference in the new material, though, was the band’s willingness to break free from their usual song structures. The jagged “Superstar” was more angular than typical Weezer fare, with an almost staccato feel to it. And “Too Late to Try” shaped itself around Cuomo’s use of the wah-wah pedal, where he stepped on and off quickly to create a back-and-forth sound not often gotten from that effect.
Only four of the band’s sixteen new songs were presented before Weezer jumped back into their proven material, where the biggest crowd pleasers, oddly, weren’t always the well-known hits. “Why Bother?” from Pinkerton, the band’s commercial “failure,” had the audience chanting along “Why bother?/It’s gonna hurt me/It’s gonna kill when you desert me” with emphatic cheerfulness. And the final triumph of the lyric (“It won’t happen to me anymore”) became a rallying cry, as if Weezer had somehow tapped into all the unspoken hurts and insecurities of the disaffected, who found new hope and even perhaps joy in being able to share their pain.
Weezer seemed to capture the crowd when they were the most contradictory. Bearing their vulnerabilities — after all, isn’t that what show-closer “Undone (The Sweater Song)” is all about? — and turning those hurts into strengths. Still, Cuomo held onto a few of his reservations. After a partly a cappella-rendered encore “Surf Wax America,” he looked out into the crowd, almost wistful, as if he so wanted to just jump out there and join the adoring throng. But, instead, he laid his guitar gently upon the stage, and walked away. Next time, Rivers, next time.