Thursday, December 3, 2009

Weezer/Jack's Mannequin/Motion City Soundtrack at the Aragon 12/1

After an actual month of November with no concerts (blame the economy), I went to the Aragon Brawlroom on Tuesday night for a show I had pretty high hopes for, which was Weezer with Motion City Soundtrack and Jack's Mannequin.

Weezer has the dubious distinction of being one of two bands that are on the Top 5 list of the best concerts I have ever seen, and the worst I have seen as well. The big question was which version of the band was going to show up for this show.

Their best show I saw, which was one of the best I've ever seen, was a small tour they did early 2001 as a previewto their Green album, which was to follow later that year. The band had completely dropped off the radar, mostly due to lead singer/songwriter Rivers Cuomo having a bout of depression and locking himself in a room for most of the 5 year period between that and their previous album, the exceptional "Pinkerton." They decided to play the Metro and a few other select venues just to get out playing again before the album was released, also as a thank you to their fans for sticking around. They played an incredible set packed with all of their best material, and looked more appreciative and happy to be on the stage than almost any other band I've seen.

On the flip side of the coin, a mere 4 years later, I went to see them at the Aragon on the tour for "Make Believe." The album was a pretty big disappointment, and sadly the tour reflected that. The show was pretty much a total paycheck show, which just meant they showed up, played what they had to play, and left. All of the joy and exhillaration from the Green album show was completely gone, and they were only there just to collect the big check from the show.

While waiting to find out which of those Weezers would be there at the Aragon on that night, I got to see a couple of bands I haven't seen in a while to pass the time. I should note that the music they had playing between bands was one of my favorite bands, Sigur Ros, so that was a sign definitely pointing in the right direction.

Somehow, first up was Motion City Soundtrack, a band I've loved for 7 or 8 years or so now. The Minneapolis-based power pop/punk band has made some incredible songs, and are an amazing live band in their best moments. They've dropped off the scene for over a year now, I wasn't sure why, but it appeared to have something to do with their amazing drummer, Tony Thaxton.

MCS has a new album out in January, so I was hoping to hear a few new songs to tide me over til then. The band instead plowed through a greatest hits set, churning out most of their best tracks from their albums "I Am the Movie," "Commit This to Memory" and "Even if it Kills Me," with one brand new song tossed in at the end. Their half hour was over in a flash, but thankfully the band was in prime shape, and will definitely be worth seeing again when they are back in support of their new album.

Next up was Jack's Mannequin, a piano-based power pop band that was put in the middle spot of the lineup, when they would have been better off opening the show. I guess the move made sense, somehow more people in the crowd seemed to know their music more than MCS.

I really liked Jack's Mannequin's last album, "The Glass Passenger," so I was going to give them a chance at least, but after MCS's energetic set, JM felt pretty boring and uninspired. I'm assuming they have something new on the way, since they will be back in Chicago in February, but I could tell, and none of the songs I didn't know that they played are making me run out to pick up the cd when it's out.

Finally, Weezer was ready to take the stage. My question of which version of the band would be there was quickly answered, when the band opened with a tease of the opening riff from Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher," then went right into some sludgey metal-ish instrumental, before going right into "Hash Pipe." One of the interesting things off the bat was that the band's drummer, Pat Wilson, was now mainly playing guitar and keyboards, while they brought out a touring drummer with them for most of the songs.

This freed up Cuomo to be more of a lead singer/cheerleader than he had in the past, and surprisingly he took to the role well. He ran all over the stage throughout the set, even doing one of the new songs, "Let It All Hang Out" entirely while immersed in the front row of the crowd.

The band delivered all of the expected classics ("Surf Wax America," "Undone," "Perfect Situation," "Dope Nose"), and did manage to throw in a decent amount of songs from their excellent new album, "Raditude." They brought on a fan from the crowd to share the vocals of "(If You're Wondering If I Want You to) I Want You To," which could have been a lot of fun, but the woman sharing the vocals was frozen and didn't look like she was enjoying herself too much.

They then played the amusing party anthem "Can't Stop Partying" from the new cd, and had Cuomo performing the rap portion in the middle of the song. I have to give him credit for taking some big slugs from what appeared to be a bottle of tequilla without any adverse affects. After that, Cuomo disappeared off the stage while the rest of the band performed a spot-on cover of Pink Floyd's "Time," with Wilson nailing both the vocals and the guitar lines perfectly.

We found out the reason Cuomo disappeared shortly after that, he secretly snuck to the back of the venue and sang the entire new song "I'm Your Daddy" while perched atop the soundboard at the back of the venue.

As another enjoyable moment, the band came out for the encore all wearing Blackhawks jerseys, and after plowing through "Pork and Beans," they went into their mash-up cover of MGMT's "Kids" and Lady Gaga's "Pokerface" that they have been doing at shows for the past year. They again played "Kids" perfectly, and made it more fun than when I saw MGMT play it at Lollapalooza last year. Then midsong Cuomo snuck up to the balcony to the side of the stage, put on a long blonde wig, and hillariously mocked Lady Gaga for the portion of her song.

Cuomo then came out and looped all of the instruments by himself until he was playing most of "Island in the Sun" completely by himself, til the rest of the band joined him mid-song. They closed up with "Buddy Holly," and all 5 band members pounded on the drums to close out the show.

The band definitely looked like they were having a good time this time around, and the feeling was infectious. Despite the fact that the covers they played took up set time that could have been used for even more of their best songs, it seemed to give them more of a sense of freedom and enjoyment than they may have had in the past.

On a side note, this is the third or so show I've seen at the Aragon in the past year. I used to honestly despise going to the venue, but these past shows have shown that this is a very respectable venue once again. The sound at this show and all of the previous shows has been great, much better than the echo filled sludge like it used to sound. I have to tip my hat to whoever made that change, but I won't regret heading back there again in the future.

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