As stacked line-ups go, having Weezer and the Pixies tour together is practically the stuff of dreams. Both are legendary in their respective niche and share similar sensibilities while not being so similar that watching one after the other is like witnessing a carbon copy. One deals in no-frills, no-nonsense performance, while the other pulls out as many bells and whistles as they can squeeze into their allotted time. On the latest night of their joint tour at Syracuse’s Lakeview Amphitheatre, both are at the very top of their game.
Before the bonafide legends can take the stage, openers The Wombats must first return to a situation they haven’t found themselves in for years – the support act. “That was awkward,” laughs frontman Murph as the band take to the stage in front of a smattering of people, but their set’s underwhelming introduction doesn’t indicate the tone for the rest of their time with us tonight.
Their short set is mostly made up of songs from latest album ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’, and they sound huge in this lakeside bowl, echoing off the sloping hills and making the idyllic setting feel more like a stadium. ‘Cheetah Tongue’ gradually builds to dizzying heights, while ‘Turn’ glistens like the slowly setting sun. The trio give their own little slice of pageantry with ‘Moving To New York’, bringing a handful of giant wombats and a ropey version of Harley Quinn onstage to accompany them on dance moves. “A big thank you to Margot Robbie,” Murph jokes afterwards. “She’s let herself go a bit.”
Pixies might be mostly in their fifties now (bassist Paz Lenchantin is 44), but they couldn’t be accused of the same thing. Instead, they’re more potent and dangerous than ever and all without making their performance look like much work at all. In fact, if it wasn’t for Black Francis scrunching his brow as he sings and the beads of sweat trickling down his face, the whole thing would seem like a breeze.
In the past, the band have said they play whatever they feel like on any given night. Tonight, that means spending a lot of time in the late ’80s and delving deep into their seminal albums ‘Doolittle’ and ‘Surfer Rosa’. ‘Crackity Jones’ fizzes and splutters, gaining speed and intensity with each second like it’s free-falling down a steep hill. Paz takes the lead on ‘Gigantic’ and offers a nonchalant cool to Francis’ saliva-flecked barks, while ‘Wave Of Mutilation’ sounds as bright and joyous as a true indie anthem should.
It’s a typically restrained set with no fancy distractions from the main job at hand. In fact, the only concessions the band make to making this feel like something other than watching them rehearse (brilliantly) in their garage come in closer ‘Vamos’. Guitarist Joey Santiago leans into the crowd’s appreciation for his riffing and stokes their cheers by beckoning them to make noise and then go quiet with every lift or drop of his hat. As the song finishes, Francis ushers his bandmates to centre stage, each gripping each other’s hands before they indulge in a little theatricality – a double stage bow that makes it look like they’ve just completed a night at The Globe.
In contrast, there is nothing about Weezer’s set that you could call restrained. They open boldly with hit single ‘Buddy Holly’, which sees confetti canons erupting over the crowd before its even finished. It only takes five songs before frontman Rivers Cuomo is undertaking his first costume change as one of their crew runs onstage and forcibly yanks off his cardigan and tie combo to reveal a football shirt underneath. Later, he’ll jump on a scooter and push off around the edge of the bowl until he reaches a prop boat from where he’ll paddle with his acoustic guitar and perform two stripped-back songs from the middle of the crowd.
While Weezer’s latest album ‘Pacific Daydream’ might not have been met with the warmest of receptions, part of what makes the band still deliver live is their unabashed exuberance. Not for them is moodily standing around, glaring at their shoes. “You’ve gotta trust in the Weez!” Rivers tells some eager fans down the front when they yell out song requests, while the set’s abundance of covers makes it obvious that they’re worshippers as well as the worshipped.
We get a mash-up of The Turtles’ ‘Happy Together’ and Green Day’s ‘Longview’ that works surprisingly well, a solo version of A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’ mid-boat section, a lounge reworking of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, the meme-sparking version of Toto’s ‘Africa’, and a closing round of Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’. On paper, that long list could seem like a misstep – a wasted opportunity to fit in even more of the band’s own classics. In reality, each adds an extra spike of fun to the night, serving the same purpose as the pyrotechnics and Rivers’ vivacious presence – fun. Who wouldn’t want a ton of that?