Seeing nearly any musical act that reached the pinnacle of their success decades earlier is often a nostalgic event to some degree. But Weezer kick off the set on their ongoing summer tour with a moment of such intense, overpowering nostalgia that it almost threatens to rip a hole in the fabric of the space-time continuum. It makes Time Life’s informercial for their Malt Shop Memories box set (“Songs that make you feel young again!”) and the Happy Together tour featuring the Turtles, Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron and Gary Puckett & the Union Gap seem like amateur hour by comparison. It’s the purest form of the phenomenon we’ve ever seen, like it was cooked up in a time lab by the Walter White of nostalgia.
It begins with the familiar voice of Happy Days cast member Al Molinaro. “OK, kids,” he says. “Arnold’s is proud to present Kenosha, Wisconsin’s own Weezer!” If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact opening to the band’s 1994 “Buddy Holly” video. The curtain then drops to reveal not just that the stage is an elaborate re-creation of Al’s Diner from Happy Days and the “Buddy Holly” video, but that Rivers Cuomo is wearing his identical outfit from the iconic clip. He’s even wearing the same black-and-red–striped tie. Needless to say, the first song in the set is “Buddy Holly.” Check out a video of the moment right here from a recent tour stop in Camden, New Jersey.
Let’s break this all down a bit. Happy Days hit the airwaves in 1974 to capitalize on the 1950s nostalgia craze, as evidenced by the recent success of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” the Broadway musical Grease, the throwback group Sha Na Na and George Lucas’ American Graffiti. It managed to stay on the air for 11 seasons, even though it literally jumped the shark in season five. A big part of the show’s success was how it managed to create this alternative version of the 1950s without McCarthyism, Jim Crow, the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation or any of the other less pleasant aspects of the decade. It was nothing but sock hops, non-threatening greasers, poodle skirts and even more sock hops. It was the 1950s the way aging suburbanites wanted to remember it.
The show stayed on the air for so damn long that it eventually became nostalgia for itself, most evident in the opening credits from the 1984 season where you see a montage of the actors aging dramatically through the years. By the time Weezer set their “Buddy Holly” video in Al’s Diner, the show was just as far back in the past as the mid-1950s time period was from the Happy Days pilot. And now the “Buddy Holly” video is 24 years old, meaning that Weezer opening their show with a re-creation of it is an act of nostalgia for the 1950s, 1970s and 1990s all at once.
The rest of the Weezer’s concert doesn’t veer far from the nostalgia of the opening number. The set eventually switches over to the garage from 1994’s “In the Garage,” complete with the Kiss posters on the wall. That’s one of six songs they play from the Blue Album, along with a long portion of Green Day’s “Longview” that allows the crowd to bask in the era a little more. At one point at the Camden show, Rivers, who put on a Nirvana shirt near the end, even yelled out “1994!” to a roar of approval from the crowd. (Only a single song, “Feels Like Summer,” is played from their newest album, Pacific Daydream. Hurley, Everything Will Be Alright in the End and the White Album have all been purged from existence.) And if 1980s nostalgists felt left out of all the fun, they eventually get to hear the group cover Toto’s “Africa” and see Cuomo deliver a solo acoustic rendition of A-Ha’s “Take on Me.”
None of this is knocking Weezer. They clearly know their audience and seeing them play this show on a double bill with the Pixies, who still deliver a scorching set even without Kim Deal, was the most fun we’ve had at an amphitheater in years. We yelled along to “Gigantic,” “Here Comes Your Man,” “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Say It Ain’t So” until we were hoarse. For a few hours, all of the troubles of 2018 melted away as we faded back into the blissful waters of 1955, 1974, 1994 and many points in between.