Your Geek Flag Fly
Photo by Martin Benjamin
Weezer, Saves the Day
Arena, Feb. 17
their self-titled first album (referred to now as the “blue
album” by fans) was released to mass acclaim in 1994, Weezer
exemplified indie-rock geekdom. Their clothes—grandpa sweaters,
brainiac glasses and old-school sneakers—were nerdy Salvation
Army chic, while their songs name-checked teen talismans such
as skateboards and Dungeons & Dragons fantasy-game paraphernalia.
Even their name was deliberately, self-consciously uncool.
Although they were first embraced by fans of ’90s indie-rock,
Weezer always had a big, hook-laden rock sound that pegged
them as true progeny of ’80s bands like Cheap Trick and the
Cars. (Notably, Ric Ocasek has produced two of Weezer’s albums.)
Still, Weezer seemed an unlikely band to headline a show at
the Pepsi Arena, as they did last Sunday night. Amazingly
enough, by the
second or third song into the show, it was readily apparent
that Weezer were—gasp!—arena-worthy.
Drummer Pat Wilson and his kit were perched high up on a riser,
in true arena-rock fashion. Behind the band, a curtain collapsed
as if by accident, exposing a colorfully lit grid backdrop
and the band’s flying “W” symbol (appropriated from Van Halen).
Though the arena was far from packed, the turnout was still
impressive: A quite youthful crowd—with an average age of,
maybe, 16—filled the general-admission floor and lower tiers
of the stadium.
up, peeps?” asked a gruff-looking Rivers Cuomo. The Weezer
front man, who once sang about his resemblance to Buddy Holly,
looked more like an average joe—bearded, sans glasses and
wearing a decidedly normal plaid shirt and khaki pants. Now
in his early 30s, Cuomo still manages to strike quite a chord
with the teen set, but he seems to do so entirely without
pandering. Despite the occasional juvenility of his lyrics,
most of his songs explore adult, love-is-a-battlefield themes.
Benefiting from surprisingly crisp sound, Weezer unleashed
one punchy, sing-along hit after another, as fans ripped up
the ice-covering floorboards and rode them like surfboards
atop the crowd. The band played much of their first and third
albums, and threw in a couple of well-chosen tokens—“Why Bother?”
and “The Good Life”—from 1996’s Pinkerton. They also
weren’t lacking the sense of humor that tends to endear them
to the kids: During the opening strains of their hit single
“Hash Pipe”—which starts out like a punched-up “Peter Gunn
Theme” until Cuomo’s falsetto kicks in—smoke began to belch
from the sides of the stage and envelop the band.
The show concluded, fittingly, with a series of great rock
& roll moments: Smoke shrouded the band as Cuomo finished
off “Only in Dreams” with an impressive guitar solo, while
glittery confetti fell from the ceiling and a kid did a flip
off one of the floor-mat surfboards. As if to top that, another
fan launched a glow-stick from halfway across the stadium,
and drummer Wilson caught it, miraculously, with one hand.
With an encore of “Surf Wax America,” the show ended the way
any arena rock concert should: A huge plume of smoke hovered
over the stage, the vestigial whine of guitar feedback filled
the seats and epileptic-seizure-inducing strobe lights fired
rapidly. Below the flashing bulbs of the winged “W” sign,
Cuomo gave a humble wave and carried his sweater off the stage.
Opening band Saves the Day didn’t seem to benefit from the
same crystal-clear sound that helped make Weezer’s set such
a tonic. According to much of the band’s recent press, the
New Jersey youngsters often explore spiritual themes in their
emo-punk tunes; unfortunately, their spirituality was lost
in a din of incomprehensible lyrics. Still, the skinny boys
in T-shirts did show a lot of spunk.
Jacky Terrasson Trio
Van Dyck, Feb. 15
Some jazz shows are as serious
as a heart attack, all intensity and clenched-jaw acrobatics.
Some are just workmanlike, just another night in another club
playing “Green Dolphin Street” for the umpteenth time. Young
pianist Jacky Terrasson’s performance Friday at the Van Dyck
was the antithesis of these shows: a playful, ebullient romp
through a batch of mainly jazz standards, a joyful exercise
in unrestrained fun.
Take the opening version of “My Funny Valentine,” a tune the
world generally doesn’t need another version of. Starting
with a vaguely Latino feel, things got ferocious about the
third time around, moving to a reggae beat at the five-minute
mark then crashing down straight ahead for the finale. The
whole night was like this, with tempos and grooves moving
around, and nothing staying put for very long.
Terrasson’s mates, drummer Ali Jackson and bassist Sean Smith,
both played melodically, and the level of telepathic communication
among the band was astonishing. The three rarely took their
eyes off one another, and there wasn’t a moment during the
set that at least one wasn’t smiling broadly, either in anticipation
of what was about to happen, or in reaction to what had just
gone down. All three looked like little boys getting away
with something. And they got away with everything they touched.
The band played both subtly and with a mallet. Accents and
affectations were always grossly exaggerated, and there were
times when the band seemed more like a little Spike Jones
orchestra (or maybe like they were doing impromptu Carl Stallings-like
cartoon soundtracks), landing with both feet and a scream
where a simple touch would have communicated the point.
The best example of this refreshing goofiness came mid-set,
when Terrasson was tinkling a delicate solo passage, all hunched
over the keyboard. A police car raced by outside, sirens blazing.
Terrasson looked up, cocked an eyebrow, and answered the siren
with a couple of brisk high-note trills.
Little Bit Country,
A Little Bit Edgar Allen Poe
Coal Palace Kings
At his best, gothic country-rocker Johnny Dowd subverts seemingly
lighthearted musical fare by adding ominous, dark undertones.
The effect can be unexpected and jarring, akin to the experience
of picking up a pretty rock to find its underside squirming
with little creatures.
To his credit, Dowd—who works by day as a furniture mover
in Ithaca—began and ended his Saturday-night show at Valentine’s
with tunes that combined darkness and light to disturbing
effect. He began the show with “Big Wave,” a song that, on
the surface, appeared to be just another paean to riding the
perfect wave at Waikiki. But as the intense Dowd (whose shock
of peppered white hair contrasted with his all-black clothes)
croaked the lyrics in a vaguely menacing fashion while backup
singer Kim Sherwood-Caso added cloyingly sweet
“la-la” accents, the song soon became deliciously disconcerting.
Dowd finished the show with a decidedly off-season—and nearly
unrecognizable—rendition of “Jingle Bells,” and the traditional
Christmas classic probably has never been given such an interpretive
treatment. At the very least, the rendition was an experiment
in form: As the tempo became uncharacteristically languid
and dirgelike, even the song’s most benign lyrics (“Oh what
fun it is to ride . . .”) took on a new, forbidding tone.
In Dowd’s world, “bobtails” must be Medieval instruments of
Several years ago, at the first Albany show of his I saw,
Dowd came across as more of a straight-up—albeit twisted—roots
rocker. These days, his band have taken on an unconventional
twinge: Drummer Brian Wilson plays Moog bass pedals with his
feet, and spooky organ has been added into the mix. While
I confess to liking Dowd better when his country-noir was
stripped a little more bare, the organ worked to good effect
on one carnivalesque tune that recalled well the depressive,
seasonally affected days of February: “Days of darkness,”
Dowd sang, “just two days of sun.”
Compared to the obliqueness of Dowd, openers Coal Palace Kings—who
sounded as good as I’ve ever heard them—wore their hearts
on their sleeves. The mood of Albany’s country-rock ravers
ranged from plaintive to joyous, but was always earnest, whether
on a heartfelt ode to a van (“Old Blue”) or while delivering
the ultimate kiss-off on “An Awful Thing to Do”: “Kiss my
ass/From the top of the world.”