As a massive, glowing "W" flashed behind them, the alternative-rock veterans Weezer wasted little time reminding the Charm City Music Festival crowd just how long they've been together. The group kicked off its consistently uptempo, 90-minute headlining set at the first-ever event with "My Name is Jonas," the opening track from the band's 1994 debut album.
After the winking nod to their longevity, bespectacled frontman Rivers Cuomo, possessing a stronger voice than I expected, and his band ran through hit-single after hit-single, with little banter in-between. Songs such as "Troublemaker" (from 2008's self-titled red album) and "We Are All on Drugs," the tongue-in-cheek ode to chemical dependency from 2007's "Make Believe," highlighted the band's formula of soaring hooks, driving guitar-riffs and unshowy soloing.
It's accessible power-pop that goes down easily. The crowd, won over from the moment the band hit the stage, lit up with palpable excitement when the group launched into its stable of radio smashes. Done-to-death singles "Beverly Hills" and "Island in the Sun" took on new, anthemic life here, as the crowd hollered with excitement and pitched in background vocals.
With the exception of "El Scorcho," the setlist was light on "Pinkerton," the band's initially-misunderstood-but-now-cult-favorite sophomore album from 1996. It was a shrewd decision: Those darkly funny and insular songs are among the best of Weezer's career, but they likely wouldn't have excelled in the outdoor-festival setting.
They appeased longtime fans just enough: "Surf Wax America" and "Buddy Holly," both from their debut album, have aged well, easily fitting into the set without sounding dated.
The set also bypassed rock 'n' roll theatrics. There was no mini-acoustic set or forced crowd participation — it was simply four professionals efficiently churning out indelible alt-rock without filler.
It's easy to forgo schtick when you can easily fill an hour-and-a-half with non-stop singles. They kept coming all night: "Hash Pipe," "Keep Fishin'" (sadly without the music video's co-stars, the Muppets), "Dope Nose" and "Photograph" had the crowd dancing all night.
The night's high-point, before the encore, was "Perfect Situation" — a "Make Believe" single with arguably the band's biggest hook, all full-throated ohh-ohhs and nothing else. The crowd, egged on by Cuomo, happily obliged and filled the Harbor East Waterfront with their voices, nearly drowning out the band.
But really, everyone was waiting for one moment, and Weezer, of course, saved it for the very end. As the instantly recognizable guitar part to "Say It Ain't So" began, the crowd cheered. Suddenly, the night turned into a karaoke session led by the real thing.
There's something cathartic about the song, which deals with alienation and a disintegrating marriage. But on this night, it also sounded triumphant, as if Weezer — the posterboys for alt-rock's thoughtful, nerdy side — had finally made "geek" chic. But really, they've made career of doing just that. Judging from the band's abundance of hits and Saturday's appreciative crowd, it's been a wildly successful one.