The two giants of the rock world brought their joint tour to Van Andel Arena on Wednesday night, and they gave fans plenty of reasons to leave happy. The Local Spins review and photo gallery.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERY, WEEZER SET LIST
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Many years ago, Weezer recorded a great version of the classic Pixies song “Velouria,” which that band’s leader, Black Francis, later said was his favorite Pixies cover.
Weezer’s “Velouria” appeared on a Pixies tribute album in 1999, when the world was a very different place and neither band existed in their current forms.
Back then, the Pixies already were widely credited with having perfected the songwriting blueprint and dynamic template that would characterize alternative rock’s mainstream takeover, but split up before they had a chance to capitalize on it.
And Weezer was in the middle of a hiatus prompted by the commercial failure of its sophomore album “Pinkerton” and frontman Rivers Cuomo’s early struggles adjusting to the pressures of rock stardom.
A lot’s happened in 20 years.
Terrorism, endless wars and mass shootings became facts of life. The boundless early promise of the Internet unraveled into a dystopian, soul-draining nightmare. The sustainability of the music business, along with countless other industries, evaporated into the thin air of race-to-the-bottom digital capitalism. Some of us who were young then took our cars to work and are borderline middle-aged now.
But bands that were broken up, including Weezer and the Pixies, got back together and kept going.
The two groups are a natural pairing for a co-headlining arena tour in 2019, which stopped at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids Wednesday for a nearly sold-out performance. The bands’ eventual comebacks in 2001 (Weezer) and 2004 (Pixies) helped establish a model that is as important to the business of rock in the 2010s as their music was to the sound of it in the ’90s.
Weezer reunited to wide initial enthusiasm after fans of their iconic self-titled “Blue” debut album grew to embrace the uncomfortable rawness of “Pinkerton,” which is now cherished as a touchstone in the rock sub-genre that became known as emo. Material from these two records — an opening barbershop rendition of “Buddy Holly,” “My Name Is Jonas,” “Pink Triangle,” “El Scorcho,” “Undone (The Sweater Song)” — occupied most of Wednesday’s 80-minute, 20-song set, performed on a stage decorated to resemble both a ’70s basement and a ’90s garage.
CLASSICS (AND COVERS) NEW AND OLD, AND PLENTY OF PIXIES MAGIC
In that garage, we felt safe, and the time-tested quality of vintage Weezer might have spared your (as mentioned, aging) reviewer from needing to grapple with his feelings about the rest of Weezer’s catalog, which now spans a daunting 13 albums of wildly varying quality.
But an arena rock show is no place to escape the passage of time, and realizing Weezer 2.0 hits like “Beverly Hills” and “Pork and Beans” are now classics to younger Weezer fans the way “Say It Ain’t So” (Wednesday’s finale) and “Surf Wax America” are to Gen X-ers and older millennials produces the sort of generational dissonance that might as well be considered the price of admission for the rest of our lives.
(“Remember when the internet was fun?” Cuomo asked before the band launched into “Pork and Beans” and a wheeled monitor showed pieces of the song’s video, itself an early tribute to the concept of online virality.)
Anyone with “Complicated Feelings About Weezer” surely has seen the 2018 “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which a dinner party devolves into a shouting match about whether the band is still good. That any rock artist today can summon that kind of passion, for or against, speaks to the intensity of Weezer’s devotees but also just how confusing Weezer has become as a pop-culture proposition.
The impetus for that sketch was the band’s hit version of Toto’s yacht-rock standard “Africa,” which was later packaged as part of a surprise “Teal” album full of mostly pop and rock covers, reproduced pretty much note-for-note. There’s not much to say about it as art, but the handful of “Teal” tracks on Wednesday’s set list — including a-ha’s “Take On Me,” TLC’s “No Scrubs,” Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” the Turtles’ “Happy Together” — were a lot more appetizing as part of a greatest-hits live show than as an internet-optimized PR exercise. Veteran bands looking to extend their shelf lives could do worse.
But of course, there’s always the Pixies’ route, which is to take no prisoners and give no F’s. The group pioneered the concept of a 21st Century second act for legacy indie bands, and while the novelty of seeing the Pixies on arena and festival stages has diminished in recent years, its unassailable catalog more than justifies the band’s perpetual existence as a touring powerhouse.
From opener “Where Is My Mind?” onward, the quartet’s 70-minute set was a Powerpoint on the fundamentals of face-blistering alt-rock.
Never pausing to address the audience, Francis & Co. ripped through a list of standards both brutish and sublime, including “Here Comes Your Man,” “Gouge Away,” “Wave of Mutilation,” “Head On,” “Debaser” and “Gigantic” (with lead vocals handled capably by bassist Paz Lenchantin, who replaced original Pixie Kim Deal in 2014).
Notably missing from either band’s set was a rather obvious one: “Velouria.” But there’s always next time.
Weezer and the Pixies, in their separate and peculiar ways, have configured themselves into bone machines that will tour forever.
PHOTO GALLERY: Weezer, Pixies, Basement at Van Andel Arena
Photos by Anthony Norkus
Copyright 2019, Spins on Music LLC