With their lanky frames and thick-rimmed glasses, the members of Weezer are not exactly the kind of guys you’d expect to see gracing the glamorous, “toptional” sands of Mandalay Bay’s Moorea Beach Club. But that’s exactly where they were Friday night, playing a lively show that had the midsize crowd singing along for the majority of a 75-minute set.
It may seem like an odd venue for the L.A.-based quartet, whose songs champion the misfit, but they’ve also spent the better part of their 20-year career going against expectation.
When fans and critics anticipated more feel-good indie rock after Weezer’s 1994 debut, the band put out the raw, confessional “Pinkerton.” When critics eventually embraced that album years later, Weezer responded with a sterile, melodic third record. They’ve even fudged their definitive nerdy image by collaborating with rapper Lil’ Wayne.
But whether you’ve dubbed them sell-outs or have embraced the catchy, radio-friendly sound of their recent albums, Weezer is still doing exactly what they want to do. And that’s what made for such a fun set Friday night.
Given the tourist-heavy, casual atmosphere, I expected the band to lean on crowd-pleasers from new records like “Hurley” and “Radtitude,” with a few token oldies thrown in. However, the reverse proved to be true as they culled at least half their songs from their early catalog, even treating old-school fans with the b-side “Suzanne” from the 1995 movie “Mallrats.” There were, of course, still a few of their new hits, like the infectious, cavity-inducing sweetness of “I Want You To,” which I tried, and failed, to not tap my foot to. And then there was the aforementioned Lil’ Wayne collaboration “Can’t Stop Partying,” whose ironic-but-maybe-not novelty rapping is a gimmick that should’ve been left to die with other early-’00s cultural faux pas.
But Weezer is going to play what Weezer wants to play, and that also made for playing that was solid and enthusiastic, full of crunchy power chords glazed with reverb. Formerly stage-shy frontman Rivers Cuomo showed plenty of the rock star bravado he’s adopted in recent years, making his rounds on the compact stage to play guitar solos to different sides of the cheering audience. Meanwhile, the ever-cheerful guitar and bass pair of Brian Bell and Scott Shriner struck dueling stances and bobbed their heads.
The set also was a reminder that Weezer has done this thousands of times before. It’s a fact that generally makes for a tighter, seasoned performance and more creative set list, but it also can rob a band of the spontaneity that makes a gig truly memorable: Weezer’s onstage banter was kept to a minimum (“How’s it goin’, Las Vegas?” was about the extent of it), and songs barely deviated from their recorded versions. When they did, as with the bits of vocal flare and tempo changes on “Surf Wax America,” it was done in exactly the same way and in the same places as when I last saw Weezer about 10 years ago.
But that was 10 years ago. Since then, the Weezer guys have gotten married; they have kids. It’s no surprise that playing in the band seems more like a job than an artistic endeavor. Nevertheless, it’s still clearly a job they want to be doing and one that they’re still darn good at. And with this kind of music, you don’t need more than that — just pump your fists and sing along.