Revenge of the Nerds
Weezer has not released any new material in five years, yet its September 7 show at The Blue Note in Columbia sold out before most of the MU students returned to school, and its September 8 date at The Granada has people freaking out as if John Lennon had risen from the grave to reunite The Beatles. The discussion forum at the local music Web site www.thezone.org quickly filled with “Weezer Tickets Needed” or “Weezer Tickets for Sale” entries, and signs requesting tickets are more common on Lawrence streetcorners than Pitch boxes are.
To the uninitiated, this might seem pretty strange. Sure, Weezer had a few hits half a decade ago, but guitar-pop bands come and go every year, and once they’ve had a hit song, we’re not supposed to hear from them again. Does anybody really miss Better Than Ezra or the Gin Blossoms? And really, does anybody think the record-buying populace will care about Lit, Eve 6, or Vertical Horizon two years from now, or even next week?
So why has every show on the band’s tour sold out, often within five minutes of going on sale? Because Weezer’s much more than an average guitar-pop group. Rivers Cuomo, Brian Bell, Pat Wilson, and then-bassist Matt Sharp laid the foundation for a nerd-rock revolution, and they’ve returned just as the bands it spawned are starting to break through to the mainstream.
Weezer (from lead singer Cuomo’s childhood nickname — no one in the band has asthma) released its self-titled album in 1994. On the strength of the singles “(Undone) The Sweater Song” and “Buddy Holly,” the album went four times platinum, but many critics lambasted the band for Ric Ocasek’s pop-friendly production and/or said the album sold only because of eye-catching videos by Spike Jonze (who went on to direct the award-winning film Being John Malkovich).
In reaction, 1996’s Pinkerton saw Cuomo taking control of the band and turning it into a vehicle for his introspective songwriting. Gone were the radio-friendly production and clever videos, but the album still managed to go gold.
Bassist Matt Sharp left the group in 1998 to focus on The Rentals and was replaced by former Juliana Hatfield bassist Mikey Welch. Weezer’s recording career was put on hiatus for five years while Cuomo went back to Harvard. Also, according to a report from Rolling Stone Online, the frontman only recently had the embarrassing adult braces removed that had delayed the group’s return to the stage.
The band has spent the summer playing on the Warped Tour and opening for friends Green Day in Japan. New songs, such as “Too Late To Try,” “Hash Pipe,” and “Slob,” are available on Napster, which the band fully supports. Also, the group’s Web site, www.weezer.net, encourages fans to vote on the group’s set list and suggest which songs should make the new album (set to be recorded in October and probably released in March) and who should produce it (current contenders include Ocasek or Blink-182 producer Jerry Finn).
So the band’s hiatus is off. Normally, a five-year break can destroy a career, especially for a group whose last work more or less tanked. But there’s more buzz about Weezer than ever before, because while Weezer wasn’t around, a lot of bands took its quirky, intricate sound and made an entire genre out of it.
Want proof of the group’s importance? Turn on or log into the college radio station of your choice. Wait until the DJ starts spinning the latest in indie-rock. While there’s plenty of bands doing the post-rock thing or the avant-jazz deal, there’s also a lot of stuff by such groups as The Promise Ring, Death Cab For Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, Teen Heroes, Kansas City’s own Get Up Kids, and others. The songs are bouncy, intelligent, and tuneful while managing to be cathartic and fun at the same time. And most of them sound like Weezer.
There’s many an insider who pegs this brand of indie-rock, known as “emo,” to be the next big thing after the youth of America realize Kid Rock can’t rap and decide to ditch the baggy pants and cultural appropriation. If that happens, look for Weezer to be the band in charge. Or maybe rap-metal and geek-rock will co-exist in harmony. After all, the Deftones have covered most of Weezer in concert. (Again, thank you, Napster.)
Common wisdom holds that two groups, Seattle’s Sunny Day Real Estate and a one-album band led by Fugazi singer/indie-rock legend Guy Picciotto called Rites of Spring, created emo.While many groups in the scene embrace these influences — notably Lungfish, Joan of Arc, and Braid — those acts seem serious and dark compared with the current crop of fun-loving emo bands. Perhaps “geek rock” is the better term, because The Promise Ring and the Get Up Kids seem to spend most of their time talking about girls who either won’t date them or make the lead singer feel all weird inside. Sure, other bands, most notably The Pixies, Violent Femmes, and the Descendents, had done the same thing, but none were anywhere near as popular, perhaps even iconic, as Weezer.
Some hipsters might find it embarrassing or un-indie to name-check a band with platinum albums and popular MTV videos, so instead they cite semi-obscure bands as the genre’s creators. But really, listen to the stuff. Emo/geek-rock is the house that Weezer built. And it’s time the band took back its throne, city by city.