“Don’t Touch the Rock Stars” - I Sang Onstage with Weezer
A Weezer show is like being made love to by a very experienced, tender, and efficient male escort, but with merch at the end.
I’ve seen Weezer a lot of times. I've loved them since I was a young girl fresh off the plane from Asia to England. I heard the song "Across the Sea" and decided it was about me. I’ve seen them during their tours for the Green Album and Make Believe, and at Reading Festival in the UK when I was 16. A few years ago, when I was offered the chance to travel with a band who were playing with Weezer in Japan during their Memories tour, I saw Weezer four times, including a show where Pat opened for the band with a slideshow from their early days on the road and they played Pinkerton in full.
I don’t know if you are aware, but seeing Weezer in Japan is like seeing Liberace in Vegas. It is the most extreme and surreal incarnation of the Weezer experience. Or so I thought until last night, when one of Noisey's editors, Kim Taylor Bennett, asked me if I wanted to come to an intimate Weezer show at Bowery Ballroom in New York City, where they were performing a greatest hits acoustic set, followed by every song on their new record, Everything Will Be All Right In the End. Oh, and if I wanted, I could join them onstage, as part of their crowd-sourced Weezer choir.
Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
So I said yes.
I arrived at the Bowery Ballroom at 7 PM, as per my instructions, and met a few other people who, like me, had walked past the line forming outside the venue with the hopeful swagger of a Weezer fan who is probably about to make eye contact with Rivers Cuomo. We were met at the door by the musical director, Daniel Brummel of the band Ozma, who led us to a place that only the chosen few (and some venue staff) have ever been: Weezer’s soundcheck.
After explaining to us how we would get our custom Weezer choir-robes during the show, Daniel ran us through "Foolish Father," the song on which we would make musical history by singing, five times, "Everything will be all right in the end." He told us that we would be singing in the key of "Weezer C," which is actually C flat.
After showing us the parts, Daniel instructed: “Do not touch the rock stars. Do not give gifts to the rock stars.”
"Ha ha," I thought, "Daniel is a joker."
Later one of my choir-mates said, “He isn’t joking.”
After rehearsal, they asked us to stay and sing Happy Birthday to Rivers’ assistant Sarah, who was on her way to the merch table and patiently waited for the end of the song before continuing her journey. This was cool for the fans though, because Rivers and Brian came to join in. I managed to corner Brian, to ask if he remembered meeting me in a catering room in a Japanese venue—a meeting that has always been a source of great joy to me, because I think I explained to him what Spotify is.
“I feel like I started you on a journey that day,” I tell him.
Either Brian did not begin a lifelong passion for free music streaming one summer afternoon in Yokohama Stadium, or he doesn’t want to give me credit for it, but I managed to get this photo before he flitted away and the choir was ejected from the venue.
Brian Bell and Emma at Bowery Ballroom.
Back in the crowd for the acoustic show, I recognized a feeling of anticipation from fellow Weezer veterans: we knew we were waiting for a band who have mastered the art of structuring their sets. Like I said, I’ve seen them a lot of times, and every single time I am swept away in a perfect storm of hits and rarities, the sweet pangs of nostalgia and the release of hearing your favorite song tempered by their expert control of your emotions. A Weezer show is, I imagine, like being made love to by a very experienced, tender, and efficient male escort, but with merch at the end. With this in mind, it was appropriate that the night opened with "You Gave Your Love to Me Softly," performed solo by Rivers. Brian, Scott, and Pat joined him gradually, song by song.
The treats were Pinkerton heavy—"Why Bother?," "The Good Life," "El Scorcho,"—but included some rarities (like "King," a bonus track on the deluxe edition of the Red album). Towards the end we were given a chance to choose between "Suzanne" and "No One Else." When the latter won, the potential for things to get ugly was warded off with an old-fashioned singalong, which segued into the closer, "Buddy Holly."
At this point, Weezer the acoustic opening act left the stage and we got ready for Weezer electric, the headliner. At least most of the crowd did: I got ready to literally be in Weezer. I am a denier of Weezer off-moments, so I can’t describe the new album as a return to form. But I will say that I didn’t listen to Hurley more than twice, but I can get down with an entire set made up off songs from Everything… In the same way that the Red album contained insights into Rivers’ private world and how he engages with his fans and music as a whole, Everything Will Be All Right In the End is generous and playful, with Weezer DNA coiled tight within every power chord, and moments of lyrical honesty that feel like gifts to those who recognize them. Rivers must be referring to this when, in "Back to the Shack" he sings: "Sorry guys I didn't realize that I needed you so much / I thought I'd get a new audience / I forgot that disco sucks / I ended up with nobody and I started feeling dumb / Maybe I should play the lead guitar and Pat should play the drums.”
I had to leave the room at the 20 minute mark to prepare for my moment, but I am a professional music critic, so I didn’t stop reviewing. Here is my review of the New York weather last night: mild. Here is my review of the Weezer robes: cult-like.
After "Cleopatra," the choir huddled backstage waiting for the opening chords of "Foolish Father."
“We’re not supposed to smile,” someone reminded someone else.
"Huh?" I thought. I suddenly freaked out that I had missed some major instruction and was about to destroy everything by looking happy. But there was no time to think. We were on stage (review of the monitors: clear), we were singing, there was confetti, then everyone was yelling at us, “GET OFF! GET OFF!”
As we tried to exit the room, some guy barked at us to give back the robes, and I managed to catch his eye to say, "Thanks," before he disappeared and we once more found ourselves ejected, finding out that while robing up, we’d missed Lizzy from MSMR duetting with Rivers on "Go Away."
Lizzy from MSMR and Weezer.
I returned to the main room in time for the encore—"Tired of Sex"—feeling kind of weird and un-elated. I found Kim and asked her if she’d managed to get the photo I needed for this piece. She did:
We’ll always have New York, Weezer. Brian—next time I’m going to tell you about Beats.
Emma Lee-Moss did not steal her Weezer robe, but she really shoulda done. She also makes music as Emmy the Great. Follow her on Twitter.