At this point Weezer front man Rivers Cuomo has made alt-rock nerdiness hot. Standing under 5'7" with a pair of horn-rimmed glasses stuck on his face and a mouth that looks imploded from defeat, he has succeeded where Woody Allan has failed.
Cuomo's unassuming manner came across as the punch line for Weezer's best videos, namely "Beverly Hills" (where he frolicked deadpan with an army of "beautiful people") and "We're All On Drugs" (where he walked forlornly through one comical disaster after another with that same look on his face). So it was appropriate that when he wandered onstage at The Venue while tuning his guitar without fanfare, a blitzkrieg of lights or an announcement, the near-sold-out audience didn't recognize him. This is pretty funny when you consider that in years past Cuomo was wheeled onstage wearing pajamas and hand puppets while miming to the band's "My Brain."
None of which says anything about the man's talent or the band's drive. "Undone: The Sweater Song" was the opener for a torrent of Weezer hits sprinkled with an array of album tracks from the band's two-decade history. Coming off of 2010's experimental Hurley (Epitaph Records) and Cuomo's solo projects, this show was more like a summertime lark, a demonstration of why millions love Weezer in the first place.
The usual suspects were here ("Pork and Beans," "Buddy Holly," the uncharacteristic daydream of "Island In the Sun") but there were just as many surprises (a near-over-the-top "Say It Ain't So," a punked-up "Undertow," a snappy cover of Poison's "Talk Dirty to Me") but the rip-through "Hashpipe" alone was worth the price of admission. Juiced with chunky fat guitar chords and a numbing bass beat, Cuomo sang with equal parts humility, bile and bite. If the guy didn't have such a killer voice, equally stellar guitar skills and blunt sense of humor, it would be impossible to know how to take him.
Never mind that Cuomo or his bandmates (bassist Scott Shriner, guitarist Brian Bell, and drummer Patrick Wilson) didn't address the audience until the seventh song of the set ("Sick of Sex") or that his jaunt through the audience seemed less than spontaneous. Weezerparticularly, Cuomoseem to revel in being one of us rather than a thousand-watt rock star.
On the other hand, Eric Nally of Cincinnati's Foxy Shazam definitely wants to be a rock star in the worst way. Foxy Shazam, with four albums in seven years, has created a reputation for some of the wildest shows on the planet and a philosophy that celebrates hardcore partying and good-natured lasciviousness with its tongue firmly in cheek. There's a strong whiff of '70s retro about these guys (they seem to be what you would get if the Ohio Players boinked The Sweet) but Foxy's "wham-bam" onstage flash is brazenly ageless. The new album, Church of Rock and Roll (EMI/Capitol Records), tries to contain that energy on plastic, but this is a band that needs a stage more than a studio to cut loose.
This made their show at Wicker Park Fest the best place to see themif you could take the heat. I got there a full two and a half hours before Foxy Shazam's set and already the jam-packed crowd had coalesced into a slam-dancing mass. This show was hardly for the weak of heart, and the band's response was to go completely off the rails from the start.
Squeezed into nut-crunching black jeans and an ornate leather vest with tassels, Nally came out doing somersaults (successful), slinging his microphone like a lariat (unsuccessful) and pontificating on the joys of ass-shaking like a backwoods preacher on a bender (wholly successful).
"Welcome to the Church of Rock and Roll" was sloppy, swamp funk-rock and stood as the declaration for what Foxy Shazam is all about. But, for my money, "I Like It" was where spirituality met naked lust with the full force of a nuclear reaction. (Yes, I did see God.) Of course, it was impossible not to get swept away when Nally howled "That's the biggest black ass I've ever seen and I like it ... I LIKE IT!!!," with a good-natured leer and all the sincerity of Saint Peter. And as if all that weren't enough, Nally finished the set by hanging from the rafters of the stage and rocking it like a rubber jungle gym while a grinning Sky White bodysurfed in the crowd while playing his keyboard. Jeez...