Six songs into their Sunday set on the closing night of Beale Street Music Festival, Rivers Cuomo of the brainy rock band Weezer launched into the famous guitar riff that signals “Enter Sandman,” a 1991 song by Metallica.
But even before Weezer introduced its cover of the heavy metal classic that has become a sports-arena and Memphis Grizzlies pump-up-the-fans anthem, the crowd — apparently several thousand strong — greeted every song with a roar, as if Weezer were Ja Morant, hitting a game-winning bucket in the final seconds of a series-deciding game in the NBA playoffs.
Formed in Los Angeles a year after Metallica released “Sandman,” Weezer has steadily and arguably surprisingly amassed a large and loyal fan base while also earning critical kudos for their clever songs, which use catchy power-pop chords to sell lyrics that often present a narrative or character sketch, like a short story.
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To a certain extent, Weezer belongs to the sometimes disrespected tradition of the funny rock band, like Fountains of Wayne, the Dickies, “Weird Al” Yankovic or even the Kinks and Ramones. This often pays dividends — “If you want to destroy my sweater/ Hold this thread as I walk away,” Cuomo sings on “Undone (The Sweater Song)”; “All my favorite songs are slow and sad/ All my favorite people make me mad,” he croons on “All My Favorite Songs” — but sometimes not. Weezer’s hit cover of Toto’s “Africa” is fine as a jokey novelty on Spotify, but for my money its performance stopped Sunday night’s show cold.
But, no joke, Weezer’s performance was not only a highlight of Beale Street Music Festival but was also one of the most entertaining and expert rock shows Memphis — the arguable birthplace of rock and roll — has seen in some time.
The band — which includes Cuomo on lead vocals and lead guitar, Brian Bell on rhythm guitar, Scott Shriner on bass and keyboards and Patrick Wilson on drums — produces music that is crunchy and shiny, like a candy bar; so it’s no wonder that many of those exposed to this music at the right time and in the right circumstance develop a taste for it. In fact, the crowd in front of the Terminix Stage — a crowd that spread out across Tiger Lane in Liberty Park like a giant east-west blanket — must have chewed over most of the Weezer catalog, because it sang along with every verse.
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There were a lot of verses. Performing in front of an illuminated reproduction of their winged “W” logo, which ascribes to them a superheroic aura, like Wonder Woman, the band members performed about 20 songs in about 80 minutes. They did all the songs mentioned earlier in this story, plus such favorites as “Hash Pipe” and “Beverly Hills”; they closed with their most famous number, from 1994, “Buddy Holly,” which namedrops the Texas rockabilly troubadour whose horn-rimmed glasses perhaps inspired Cuomo’s own. Rave on, it’s a crazy feeling, and Weezer left its Memphis in May crowd feeling fine indeed.