I now hate Rivers Cuomo, and I’ve always hated spiders, but I cannot hate Rivers Cuomo dressed as a spider. Nor can anyone else in the sweaty menagerie of Hammerstein Ballroom on Halloween night: The beer-sloshing peacock, violently swaying Teletubby, and mangy werewolf flapping his paws upward in an old-school “W” salute all roar for this small, unhinged man and his eight spindly arms as they hurtle, in no determinable order, across the bright stage. Wailing (clearly sincere) love for his “Hash Pipe,” he flings three or four limbs across the shoulder of guitarist Brian Bell, tonight a dashingly angular housefly, and then bassist Scott Shriner, now a glittering beetle. No one approaches drummer Pat Wilson, inexplicably in the foreground, as his towering praying mantis head bobs menacingly over his corresponding neon-green guitar.
These antics will continue all night, involving various squats, banter, and howls, even after Cuomo enlists fans to rip off the costumes—during “Undone (the Sweater Song),” naturally. Their ridiculous garb seems a generous summation of Weezer’s infuriating, seemingly permanent new direction: not that they need to be squashed, necessarily, but that their prime interest now is broad, stupid fun, as evidenced by three consecutive albums of bland power-pop. This might be enjoyable for them—tonight, Cuomo looks delighted to sing “Pork and Beans” to his disguised ilk—but to longtime fans, it’s been one long, willfully obtuse sleigh ride into hell.
Their new Raditude only accelerates that jolly descent: listlessly trite, coldly dispassionate, borderline sociopathic. In tracks such as “In the Mall,” “The Girl Got Hot,” and “I’m Your Daddy,” the lyrical content and ambition scale somewhere around the seventh grade, this from a man pushing 40 who once mathematically dissected Nirvana’s entire catalog. No wonder Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein cited the latter two tracks as evidence that Weezer “hates its fans.”
But the opposite of love is apathy, so it speaks of the band’s past brilliance that no longtime follower is ambivalent about Weezer; they’re the only band in the world whose fans completely loathe them. Anyone who grew up clinging to the divinely damaged Pinkerton or the smartly lush Blue Album is a different person today, but the conflict lies in our pride at having grown up as Cuomo mulishly becomes more immature and does nothing remotely intriguing with this. For loyalists, Weezer has been a brutal example of the evolution of fandom.
Which doesn’t change how, instead of blinking Morse code messages of terror into the audience (exhibited as recently as 2005’s Make Believe tour), Cuomo flirts and preens at Hammerstein. Like stevedores, the band solidly churns out hits—”Buddy Holly” from the Blue Album, “Island in the Sun” from the Green Album, the brain-melting “Beverly Hills” from Make Believe—and adds a few unpredictables, including “Why Bother?” from Pinkerton and “War Pigs” and “Poker Face” (yep, Sabbath and Gaga, the latter akin to your uncle wearing Ed Hardy). Lead Raditude single “If You’re Wondering If I Want You to (I Want You to)” puffs along, but no heavenly power could save “Can’t Stop Partying,” Cuomo’s new paean to Patrón and E that’s so half-assed, it isn’t even passable as an awful joke. On wax, Lil’ Wayne raps, “OK, bitches, Weezer and it’s Weezy” with all the joie de vivre of someone talking in his sleep; live, Cuomo grinds these rhymes into such disastrous discomfiture, the crowd surely does stop partying and starts staring. Quietly.
For a band that hardly belongs to anyone anymore, Weezer does attempt to offer something for everyone live. But they know their real strength: Raditude will be welcomed only because it feeds off the mystique of their expired genius. Should you be able to accept both their past and present, this is more than enough. But if it isn’t, or if it never will be, Halloween is as good an evening as any to give up the ghost.