A triumph on all levels
In truth, the critical mauling of Pinkerton is something of a myth. Back in 1996 NME was pleased enough with the record to award it a 7. In Q it triumphed with 4 stars out of 5, and there were other respectable if not overly enthusiastic critiques in the rock press. Rolling Stone readers voted it the third worst LP of the year, but who knows who fills those forms in.
But the bemusement and sense of unease among nascent fans and many reviewers was real. Why were those ‘Sweater Song’, ‘Buddy Holly’ guys getting all explicit with the dark love and bust-up songs? I mean, get a room man. Melody Maker advised its listeners to avoid the lyrics entirely. Why? Perhaps there was an expectation that having introduced themselves via a playful and clever video and name-checked Mary Tyler Moore, that Weezer would settle in as a power pop band with a comedic edge who’d put a smile on your face after a hard day’s listening to Nick Cave or Tom Waits.
And some people didn’t really believe Rivers Cuomo’s Pinkerton songs. There was a perception that this was an indulgence. The criticism was tough for Rivers to take and he more or less disowned the album as the ramblings of a college kid. The confession that he might have a sex addiction situation on the first song put him behind the eight ball immediately. The record is a lengthy confessional where self-laceration about his terrible behaviour swaps shots with the desperate hurt of unrequited love.
Cuomo is not an allusory or metaphorical wordsmith. He’s big on saying it like it is. The Japanese girl who’s never heard of Green Day which prompts him to splutter delightfully “How cool is that!” – you know she’s real, and you know Cuomo is charmed and then destroyed. No all-purpose loves songs or trippy stream of consciousness for your first date on this record I’m afraid.
The redemption of Pinkerton has been a great rock’n’roll love story. The re-assessment began about a decade ago when the media realised what the fans had long known; that Pinkerton was a small masterpiece.
So here we are, heads held high, proud flag-waving disciples primed to witness more brazen 21st century retromania, the play-your-oldies in total tour. A powerful yet crusty nostalgia fills the air. Everyone wants the opportunity to thank Weezer themselves for Pinkerton, to defy first beard bands, to hear loud guitars play moresome tunes, and to zip back to the '90s because things were simpler and far less crap then. (Ah, the '90s. Music was disseminated by radio and CD and the telly. Believe it! What a laughably archaic transference Gen Z must think. But there was no Grizzly Bear. No Beach House or Alpine. What an idyll we luxuriated in.)
The first part of the show is a dodgy hodgepodge of underwhelming material, played in a chronological reverse order, from 2010’s Hurley back to the "Green Album". 'We Are All On Drugs', 'Hash Pipe'. So-so. In spite of the first inklings of fan dementia it is not a set which inspires much promise for part two. How wrong we are.
After a titanically superfluous slideshow with commentary, the huge backdrop of the Pinkerton LP cover unfurls from on high at the rear of the stage and the crowd morphs into a deafening delirious congregation of one heart and one mind. This might be merely a knee jerk reaction to the fact that Weezer are here playing the great cult masterpiece, but they are just so, so good.
When you actually see Rivers Cuomo you realise why he’s perceived as one of pop’s great oddballs. A small, almost fragile proto-emo hero whose life would have undoubtedly panned out into something nerdy, probably teaching art, if not for his precocious musical talent.
As the band fly into ‘Tired of Sex’, the little guy in the middle surges and transitions from some boyish fellow you might see in the crowd, to a star who knows that the palm of his hand will be eaten out of again tonight.
The sound is huge. Patrick Wilson is probably the hardest hitter in rock (non-metal at least) and he’s been the tangible source of power on Weezer’s stuff since day one. Scott Shriner’s bass-playing is lithe and imaginative The edge and desperation in the guitars reminds us how smooth, by comparison at least, the group have become over the years. But there are those big choruses, and again the idea that Pinkeron was somehow “difficult” is always undermined by the peculiar irresistible moments of sing-a-long-a-moral-confusion.
The stuff’s been out there for long enough now that Rivers has no self-consciousness about performing it. At one point, most probably during his silly guitar sparring with Brian Bell, Rivers hurts his leg and hobbles a bit for the last songs, and you get a sense again of this nerd anti-jock who somehow made it through high school and, in the unlikely guise of rock star, scored some hits and then had no idea how to behave; torn between selfish lust, innocent crushes on young girls he met on tour, the need to escape relationships and the need to be rescued.
With the backdrop rolled up and all the skeletal framework at the back of the Palais stage revealed, Rivers caressed the unbearably beautiful Butterfly to a reception I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed in a concert venue. A triumph on all levels.