It’s no big secret that the nineties are back (though so are the eighties and the seventies…), nowhere more so than in music. Practically everyone you loved from back then who can tour is, making it an excellent time to see the late greats play their music, old & new, whether you missed them back then, or have already seen them in the twenty-first century. Two of the top acts of the early nineties alternative rock boom, Weezer & Pixies, came to Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater on Tuesday, July 19th, in Wantagh, NY, for a huge show.
First things first, one has to talk about the set up at Jones Beach Theater (QRO venue review). It is understandable that there’s yet another ring of security outside it, in the aftermath of such events as the bombing at Manchester’s stadium [even if it made for a serious walk & runaround for your correspondents to get their credentials…]. But once inside the venue, if not the actual stands, one couldn’t help but notice all the closed bars. The powers that be had decided to only open a drinking area at the far end of the outside area – which even left the stands themselves completely dry. Basically, one could not drink and see the stage at the same time – which really screwed over first opener Sleigh Bells (QRO photos), who played to practically empty seats. Not a normal set up there, it was apparently believed that a lot of kids would be at this show, even though the heyday for both Weezer & Pixies was before any under-21s had even been born.
Folks did head from the alcohol area to the main stands as the Pixies started with “Gouge Away”, but there were still people coming into the venue by their relatively early 8:00 PM start. Indeed, there was a whole additional level of security to get to the box seats and GA pit closer up, with extra ticket checks and wristbands. It’s all designed to keep people from sneaking forward at the show, and did accomplish that (even older folks were brushed away from taking close seats, and security eventually stopped giving out the GA wristbands to keep people from sneaking up), but it also kind of screwed later arrivals. If you arrived during Pixies, you didn’t make it to your box until they were done. If you arrived during Weezer, you didn’t get into GA.
Apparently Jones Beach Theater has had issues with rowdy crowds before (it is Long Island…), but one couldn’t help but feel – not just at Jones Beach, but in general – that safety measures just keep ratcheting up & up with no end in sight (let alone a reversal), and staff/security either don’t understand it themselves, or just don’t care what it does to the experience. At some point in the future, the fear of the customers might finally be outweighed by the actual desire to draw them in, but we’re not at that point yet.
But even if you weren’t ranting about the state of live events, Pixies took on the thin crowd at the start of their set, and it definitely did fill up as they played. However, they had a distinctly rougher sound than at other shows since they reunited (and basically kicked off the nineties alt-reunion trend). Indeed, frontman Black Francis seemed almost angry. He’s never been the easiest going of musicians, even on stage, but there was a distinct aggressive edge to him and the band. While this might have thrown off those seeing Pixies for the first time, let’s face it, most people there for the Pixies probably had at least seen them at one of their many tours before this, and instead it made for a new, different show for the majority that’d seen them before, varying from their classic records.
The Pixies played a lot from their classics, particularly at their start, and they have a lot of classics to draw from. “U-Mass” works even on Long Island, we’re all still wondering “Where Is My Mind?”, and need to know that this “Monkey Gone To Heaven”. There were even fans who still recognize “Wave of Mutilation” from Christian Slater’s 1990 teen pirate radio movie Pump Up the Volume. New bassist Paz Lenchantin ably handled the vocal work once done by Kim Deal, such as the intro “hees” to “Mind”, and singing on the subsequent “Gigantic”.
There were also newer, i.e. this millennium, songs. “Snakes” from 2014’s Indie City (QRO review) was the first newer song played, in the middle of the set, and the rougher sound let it fit in well. It was a little more noticeable playing two from 2016’s Head Carrier (QRO review), the title track and “Um Chagga Lagga” later on (especially as one was starting to want to get a drink before Weezer started, even before Pixies ended and everyone headed for the alcohol area). And of course there were tons of old songs that they didn’t play that you would have loved, because this wasn’t a three-hour set (such as “Planet of Sound”, “Is She Weird”, “Debaser”, “Something Against You”, or “Nimrod’s Son”, to name just a few). But then the Pixies did their iconic cover of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Head On”, and one couldn’t help but be happy. Closing out with “Vamos”, guitarist Joey Santiago raised his hat to the by then much larger crowd.
Of course, some had left early, and others as the Pixies ended, to get a drink in the alcohol area. So many people that the area maxed out its capacity, with fans starting a chant of “Let us in! Let us in!” One security staffer even joked that they’re usually trying to get people to pay the big bucks for the drinks (that’s where venues make their money), but now were telling people not to drink/spend money.
So there was a rush when Weezer went on, to first notes of classic “Buddy Holly”. Indeed, the stage had a backdrop like Arnold’s from Happy Days that the band played in the song’s iconic video, with frontman Rivers Cuomo wearing a tie-and-sweater combination as in the video – a sweater he did not take off for fellow Blue Album classic “Undone (The Sweater Song)”. Between was “Beverly Hills” and “Pork and Beans”, two pieces more in the band’s much criticized middle period, yet they received big receptions at Jones Beach Theater. Cuomo even added in some hat-tips during “Pork” to Jones Beach (helpfully written in big letters on a sign at his feet for the show, in case he forgot – despite having played the venue twice before).
That sweater did eventually come off, however. After Make Believe’s “Perfect Situation” (with crowd sing-along to its “Whoas” and guitarist Brian Bell going up the stairs to the drum rise), the set backdrop changed, from Arnold’s to a garage look very reminiscent of another great Weezer video, “Say It Ain’t So”. A roadie came on to demand that Cuomo take off his tie-and-sweater combo, pulling it off and throwing it in a laundry hamper, revealing a V sweater like he wore in the video for “Undone”. And yes, there was a big light-up Weezer “W” raised up above the band. With that, the band launched into “My Name Is Jonas”, perhaps their greatest song ever (tough call), with Bell taking up the harmonica duties at the end, Cuomo finishing by singing, “My name is Jones Beach…” (in the following “El Scorcho”, he also replaced the mention of Green Day – another nineties icon – with “Go to the Pixies concert”)
“We’re gonna take you back to ’94. Where are we? It looks to me like we’re… “In the Garage”!” The song for the backdrop was the arguably more appropriate “In the Garage”, still an anthem for all of us who spent a good part of our youth in our parent’s car hole. But there was also “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”, the much more recent piece from the much more recent – and much less well-regarded – Raditude (QRO review). Even at a show that was particularly focused on the band’s best & earliest material, there was still space for some newer pieces.
After a cover of The Turtles’ memorable “Happy Together” (that provided its own Green Day nod with a snippet of “Longview”), Bell took the mike for the following “Keep Fishin’” (unfortunately no backdrop from its Muppets video…), but that was so Cuomo could board the “S.S. Weezer.” A fake dinghy on a cart, it rolled into the cross aisle that separated the stands from the stage floor amid the crowd (beforehand, a lot of security came on to block the aisles & stairs, bewildering patrons and even some other staff, who didn’t know what was going), for Cuomo to play “Island In the Sun” solo – i.e., the crowd singing along to every word (and not just the “hip-hip” chorus). Indeed, Cuomo stopped mid-song to ask for more light from the crowd (“Light me up – like the rock star that I am…”), cellphone flashlights going up all around. He then took on an even older song, “from the nineteen-eighties, a band called ‘a-ha’” – i.e., the utter classic “Take On Me”, a sweet and wonderful surprise (also done with just Cuomo & crowd).
Cuomo made his way back to shore and the stage (which ironically, or perhaps intentionally, juts right into the water) while the band played “Burndt Jam”, adding in some lyrics from perhaps the most famous song of the nineties, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Cuomo then called an audible, cancelling the next song (Blue’s “No One Else”), saying that it “feels like more of a Pinkerton crowd,” and threw in “Pink Triangle”. Whether you’re more a fan of their first record, 1994’s Weezer (Blue Album) (QRO live review of Blue), or 1996’s following Pinkerton (QRO deluxe edition review), is a subject of endless debate among Generation Xers (and a really funny radio outtake on that deluxe edition of Pinkerton), but Cuomo was right that Long Island feels more Pinkerton.
The stage & Cuomo’s wardrobe changed again, this time with full light backdrop and a sleeveless Nirvana t-shirt as the band went into the newest song of the night, “Feels Like Summer” from last year’s Pacific Daydream (QRO review). The album and particularly that single are just what you’d expect a Weezer summer to be, and fit in great at the show (helping was the shoots of flame also brought to the stage).
But even more recent, sort of, was up next. Back in December, a fourteen-year-old fan started a quixotic Twitter campaign to get Weezer to cover Toto’s eighties classic “Africa”, seemingly for no reason (she’s not dying, she’s not from Africa, her parents didn’t conceive her while listening to it or Weezer…). The quest then took on a life of its own like only a frivolous-but-funny internet campaign can, and in May Weezer graced the internet with their cover (and trick-trolling beforehand with a cover of Toto’s “Rosanna”). They played the song on Jimmy Kimmel Live, with Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro coming on to do his solo, and now are doing it on their tour. Cuomo asked the crowd where he was gonna take them, but they at first didn’t know (the internet buzz is months old…), so he hinted, “Southern hemisphere” (even though about two-thirds of the continent is north of the Equator – even Equatorial Guinea is northern…). Moreover, it is a great song, and done faithfully by Weezer.
The band left for their encore break, then returned for two more classics of their own, “The Good Life” and “Say It Ain’t So” – though the latter did also have a snippet of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”. It all ended with not just light up “W” and shoots of flame, but sparks coming from above the stage.
[note: of course, photographers are only allowed to shoot the first three songs, so all the later stuff comes courtesy of your writer’s iPhone]
If you’re gonna go out to the Long Island shore for an outdoor show at Jones Beach, it needs to be an event (even if you live there, you still had to deal with the nightmare of driving out of the parking lot, with exits closing and opening at random, cars and pedestrians not keeping track of anyone else). And despite some issues with the venue, Weezer and Pixies brought a true summer stadium event show.