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Weezer in Chicago: January 7th and 8th
Written by Chris Winfield   
Friday, 28 January 2011

 

Woove staff writer Chris Winfield gets the real concert experience when he had VIP passes to see Weezer in Chicago this January.

On January 7th and 8th, I had the good fortune to see Weezer two nights in a row at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Even better, I had the "VIP" experience on the first night. The band called their latest tour “Memories,” a name to evoke the spirit of Weezer in the 1990s, the era of the Blue Album (“Buddy Holly,” “Undone,” “Say It Ain’t So”) and Pinkerton (“El Scorcho,” “Pink Triangle,” “The Good Life”). The theme vaguely followed the subject matter from the lead single off of Weezer’s 2010 release, Hurley, a track called “Memories,” but they did not need an excuse for the real focus of the tour: two nights played the best Weezer releases there have been and probably will exist. The first night on every tour featured all of Blue Album and the second night featured all of Pinkerton. I bought tickets for both shows, including VIP for the first night, and next thing I knew it was January 7th, 2011 at3:30pm.

All the VIP ticketholders were herded from the freezing Chicago streets into the slightly less cold Aragon Ballroom. After check-in and group assignment, we very important persons had the opportunity to buy the expensive “mainstream band” tour merchandise. After standing around talking to some extremely hardcore Weezer fans for a while, I began to realize that my Blue/Pink elitism made me nowhere close to one of them. I met multiple fans that had listened to Weezer before I listened to music and still stuck with the latest albums through and through.

But tonight was about the Blue Album, which I knew. We were taken to the balcony above the stage where the band’s fifth member, historian, webmaster, and archivist Karl Koch greeted us from the stage level. He showed us a few key things around the stage, all meant to create a sort of atmosphere. A custom Warmoth Stratocaster, which can be spotted in the liner notes to the Blue Album, as well as the original Marshall amplifiers used to record the album (no longer working well, so used purely as prop), were both present on stage. Karl himself also recreated the bass drumhead featuring the band’s original logo, “Bokkus,” a poorly drawn foot-face, also visible inside the Blue Album. The group asked questions about the band and Karl did his best to answer.

Our host led our VIP group to the back of the balcony area for free food and alcohol. While the other VIP groups were being shown around, the band, sans frontman Rivers Cuomo, performed their sound check unannounced. From the balconies we watched the band play four or five songs ahead of schedule. When the preview finished, our VIP host informed us that no other tour group had been lucky enough to see that; and we should not have even been around that.

After that once-in-a-lifetime experience, we lined up to receive our VIP gift bag: a tote with Weezer-related designs imprinted, a tour t-shirt, a nice poster with drawings that represented the featured album from that night and a signed copy of Hurley, which I took more as a picture of Jorge Garcia with four scribbles (R, BB, SS, and Pat) on it. Our host held a raffle for us to win an absurd amount of free merchandise, and then the main event started – not the concert, but the Weezer meeting.

Everyone lined up. After a long wait, I walked into the dressing room, shook the hands and said the names of the band members (“Scott. Rivers. Brian. Pat.”). Brian Bell asked me my name in return. It felt like I was finally talking to a girl I had never met, just written loads of poetry about, but she did not find me creepy. I faced the camera to Rivers, who had once filled my heart as a musical hero for a few years, and he put his arm around me and posed. The whole meeting lasted about a minute, but I came out of there feeling that the entire trip was worth it.

The VIP groups were allowed down to the pit before the doors opened. I grabbed a spot right at the barrier, in front of Scott and Rivers. Several of the people around me were characteristic hardcore Weezer fans like who I met earlier. One man had seen Weezer no fewer than seven times (you better believe he loved the debacle that was Raditude).

After a long, long wait and a terrible opening performance by The Limousines, who sounded like a more immature Passion Pit, Weezer came on to much applause. The first ten songs were a “Greatest Hits” set in which Rivers pretended he had a time machine and played a bunch of different songs in different years. To my delight, the band played only one song from each album, other than the Green and Red albums, The Red Album featured two, the good “Pork & Beans” and the passable “Troublemaker.” The Green Album set had the longest set, besides the featured album for the night, with “Photograph,” “Island in the Sun” and “Hash Pipe.” Thankfully there were only nine songs from the ’00s, Weezer following with the Pinkerton song “Falling for You.”

The band themselves put on an impressive performance. I did not dig most of the set list, but still danced and sang along when I could. Rivers in particular made the show great. The once shy and reserved performer jumped on trampolines, jumped at the crowd to sing, threw rolls of toilet paper, heckled security and ultimately climbed up the balcony of the venue. Longtime drummer Pat Wilson played both lead and rhythm guitar parts while touring member Josh Freese did percussion and bassist Scott Shriner turned out to be more skilled than I had believed.

The intermission featured 8-14 year old children from a local music program playing Weezer songs. Their decent performance could not distract the audience from Karl Koch’s excellent band history slideshow, shown afterwards. Rare photos of the “Stoner Road” street sign, the “Amherst House” (the studio of early demos “The Kitchen Tapes,” the subject of “In The Garage” and the location of the “Say It Ain’t So” video), as well as the recording process with Ric Ocasek (The Cars) at Electric Ladyland Studios in New York.

For the Blue Album set, it became clear that either the band had decided to go for the nostalgic feel of being immobile, or their cocaine had worn off. Weezer did next to no showing up, but at the same time, that was a great thing. The ten Blue Album tracks were played sequentially with next to no pause in between each track, as if one had played the studio album. Relatively new member Scott Shriner made only one or two playing mistakes (I know the bass lines very well) and overall, Weezer did well.

Unfortunately, I did not have VIP for the Pinkerton night, but it was much like the one before. However, the ’00s quickly gave way to ’90s B-sides “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly,” “Susanne,” and “Jamie.” An emotional “Only in Dreams,” this time finished out the phenomenal Pinkerton set,  capped out with a real acoustic performance, with mic’d instruments and everything, opposed to a humbucker on an acoustic guitar for “Pork & Beans”) or tear jerking close “Butterfly,” a moving experience I shared with a drunk man at the show.

Overall, the concert – nay, the event -- brought worth to my solo adventure to the distant Chicago. The VIP experience was superb, but the concerts brought it all together. The band exceeded my expectations phenomenally in greatest hits portions and in their extremely well-done performance of their two classic and greatest albums. The greatest concert I have ever seen? Absolutely.  

 
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