Only a band like Weezer could decide after the major artistic setback of 2020 to cram two album cycles/eras into a fourth month period. Pushing ‘Van Weezer’ back a whole year (now due out on May 7th) allowed Rivers Cuomo and co. to focus on finalising arguably their most ambitious and dynamic record in over two decades.
‘OK Human’ has proven to be a massive success, winning over fans and critics at every turn with its subtle yet simultaneously over the top devotion to orchestral composition. While still feeling inherently like the band folks know and love, it not only showcased influences often side-lined, but offered a much darker, fragile lyrical and musical exploration than most have come to expect from the pop-rock veterans.
Now, with mere weeks to go before the power chords, lightning strap, and face-melting solos return with full abandon, Weezer have opted to collaborate with the LA Philharmonic and YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles) to offer a very unique type of show, aiming to fully embrace their latest project in the most realised sense possible. It unlikely that the world would’ve seen a full scale ‘OK Human’ tour, pandemic or not, what with the logistics of it all, so an intimate live stream feels like the ideal endeavour.
As a long-haired, moustached, sweater sporting Cuomo takes to his piano, fantastical, faux-wood songbook in hand, a light hush falls upon the auditorium, only to be disturbed by the lilting opening organ of ‘All My Favourite Songs’, the self-doubting, self-deprecation anthem that initially served as lead single and glorious introduction to this analog world of okay humans.
Much like the record, all transitions are utterly seamless, with ‘Aloo Gobi’ and ‘Grapes Of Wrath’ blurring together in baroque pop bliss, while it’s naturally the gentler cuts that resonate with the most emotive flare.
‘Numbers’ and ‘Bird With A Broken Wing’ are, without question, some of the most heartfelt, earnest, and vulnerable songs that Cuomo has written, or at least unveiled to the world in quite some time. In a live setting, they’re even more powerful, with exceptional harmonies, lush orchestration, and studio-perfect falsetto guiding the arrangements, elevating the renditions to a place of soaring beauty.
As the lights dim and shroud the stage in blood red, the eerie, hypnotic ‘Dead Roses’ seeps into the fray, with Brian Bell‘s sinister acoustic plucking offset by delicate strings and menacing brass. It’s the darkest moment of the set, both figuratively and literally, before the jangly, Ben Folds inspired ‘Here Comes The Rain’ does a total 180° from the dour atmosphere with piano-pop finesse.
Closing track, ‘La Brea Tar Pits’, is forever bolstered by the sheer swagger of its string section, while the vice-tight, dry, crisp percussion of Patrick Wilson is on full display.
With ‘OK Human’ being one of the shortest albums in the ever-expanding Weezer canon, it was almost a given that some form of encore(s) would happen following the thirty-minute run-through. Expanding on the introspective, piano-centric reimagining of ‘Hero’, which the band dropped a few months back, makes it feel much more at home alongside these orchestral ditties, as opposed to the original’s crunchy power-pop that serves as opener for the forthcoming ‘Van Weezer’.
‘Island In The Sun’ and ‘Buddy Holly’ translate perfectly to the orchestral setting, with the latter’s iconic synth-lines being traded for string sections that are just the most colossal of fan service. However, it’s the ‘Pinkerton’ deepest of deep cuts, ‘Falling For You’, that’s the biggest surprise of the entire performance, with the band taking one of their grungiest, rawest tracks and subverting it with a whimsical playfulness. It’s also here that the endlessly entertaining conductor truly gets his vibe on.
While the big brass, big string reimagining of their cover of Toto‘s ‘Africa’ is every bit as uplifting and awesome as your brain can allow you to envision, the most poignant moment of the show is also its most minimal.
Look between the lines of Cuomo‘s solo acoustic version of ‘Say It Ain’t So’, a song originally penned by an angst-riddled young man trying to make sense of his parents’ divorce. Almost thirty years later, a family man of his own making, performing that same song with developing, yet everlasting relevance on a live streamed event accompanied by the LA Philharmonic and YOLA. It’s a poetic success story told by a man with a guitar, surrounded by friends, peers, and thousands watching around the world.
The lasting legacy of Weezer has rarely felt so palpable.
Lover of choons, flums, bukes and such. I like making music. I like writing about music. I like burgers and emo-trap. Also suffer from a slight case of knowitallism. I wish every song had a breakdown.