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Let Your Geek Flag Fly
By Kirsten Ferguson
Photo by Martin Benjamin

Weezer, Saves the Day
Pepsi Arena, Feb. 17

When 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.

“What’s 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.

Into the Grooves
The Jacky Terrasson Trio
The 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.

—Paul Rapp

A Little Bit Country,
A Little Bit Edgar Allen Poe

Johnny Dowd,
Coal Palace Kings
Valentine’s, Feb. 16

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 torture.

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.”

—K.F.


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