OAKLAND — As the four members of Weezer stood at a microphone in front of the stage at Oracle Arena—dressed in striped jackets and boater hats—and performed a barbershop quartet version of “Beverly Hills,” it was obvious that their concert would transgress traditional musical boundaries. Given that Weezer’s performance followed a blistering opening set by The Pixies, it was further obvious that divergent musical paths from the last century are finding themselves united in new and different ways in the new one.
After their short barbershop intro, and the playing of Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” while the band mounted the stage, Weezer appeared in Al’s Diner, from the TV show Happy Days and Spike Jonze’s brilliant recreation for Weezer’s most iconic video. As the band struck up the first chords of “Buddy Holly,” from their 1994 self-titled debut album, the crowd went wild. Vocalist Rivers Cuomo, now clad in jeans, a blue and white sweater and Vans, looked and sounded like an eternally teenaged nerd as he sang along with the enthusiastic crowd. The band continued to mine its older material, playing the opening track from their first album, “My Name is Jonas,” which featured a ripping solo by Cuomo and some nice harmonica work by guitarist Brian Bell.
“Is it too early in the show to go to Africa?” Cuomo asked just two songs into the set. The answer was “no,” and the audience proceeded to feel the rains, as pop music cannibalized itself, feasting on a strange mixture of sincerity and irony. Could a quartet of grunge rockers successfully cover an ’80s pop song? Even guitar hero Steve Lukather’s guitar solo? Yep; note for note.
Other noteworthy covers included Jane’s Addiction’s “Up the Beach,” TLC’s “No Scrubs,” Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” which Cuomo played while riding in a wooden boat rolled around the arena by roadies while Bell, still onstage, provided a passable Ozzie facsimile. When Cuomo got as far as possible from the stage, he stood up in the boat with an acoustic guitar—which refused to make a sound.
“Anybody got a guitar?” Cuomo asked. When none appeared: “I guess I’ll sing it a capella.” And then he began to sing Ben E. King’s classic, “Stand By Me,” with the room singing along.
During the second half of its set Weezer sprinkled covers throughout an extended exploration of its older catalog, running through oldies like “El Scorcho” and “Undone (The Sweater Song).” Toward the end the band invited friend, The Vandals’ drummer Josh Freese, onstage for a fiery rendition of “Hash Pipe,” during which pyrotechnic displays exploded around the band.
For the encore the band performed “Perfect Situation,” from their 2005 album Make Believe. The crowd begged Cuomo for one more as the singer pointed at his watch. He relented and the band played the opening chords from “Say It Ain’t So.” The fiery rendition of the song from their first album whipped fans into a frenzy of head-banging and fist-pumping. It was a powerfully cathartic show ender.
Alternative progenitors The Pixies, meanwhile, turned in an epic 20-plus song set of songs, all of which served to showcase the remarkable songwriting skills of frontman Black Francis (Charles Thompson IV). The 54-year-old Black led the band through an epic set that drew from every era of the legendary band’s 30-year career. For an arena show, The Pixies’ performance was remarkably stripped down. There were no elaborate video presentations, stage design or lighting elements. Instead the quartet delivered song after song of solid rock and roll.
Early on in the set, the music sounded cool and vaguely nostalgic, like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack to a David Lynch movie or a never-heard Johnny Cash deep cut. Black’s voice was both powerful and tender, occasionally rising to an impassioned yelp on songs like “Cactus,” from 1988’s Surfer Rosa and “Nimrod’s Son,” from 2014’s Indy City. Guitarist Joey Santiago’s tasteful electric guitar work adorned Black’s foundational strumming nicely on “All the Saints I Love” and crowd favorite “Where Is My Mind.”
During “The Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain” the band’s simplistic rock was augmented by a throbbing synth sound seemingly controlled by bassist Paz Lenchantin.
Later, Black strapped on an electric guitar and the band’s sound grew more frenzied and punk as it blasted through versions of “Bone Machine” and “Wave of Mutilation.” On “Monkey Gone To Heaven,” Black harmonized with Lenchantin, who managed to sound quite a bit like The Pixies’ original bassist, Kim Deal. During “Vamos,” Santiago used the brim of his soccer hooligan hat to coax strange sounds from his guitar before eventually unplugging it entirely and playing a percussive solo simply by tapping on the end of his guitar cord. The crowd responded enthusiastically to hits like “Here Comes Your Man,” from 1989’s Doolittle and Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On.”
The evening began with a short set from the English band Basement, which turned in a powerful set of chugging rock songs. The band’s two guitarists provided a mountain of sound for vocalist Andrew Fisher to ascend with his powerful voice. The band played songs from 2018 album Beside Myself, including “Stigmata,” which featured angular guitar melodies and pummeling percussion, and “Be Here Now.” On “Blinded Bye,” from 2016’s Promise Everything, the band almost sounded a little like Weezer, but most of Basement’s songs sounded more like the emo-core that Weezer and The Pixies helped to inspire.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified a song performed by the Pixies. “Hey” was not performed.