By Matt Arena
At first thought, garage rock in an arena might not sound like the greatest idea. Arena rock has traditionally incorporated big sounds, accompanied with over the top, expensive production pieces. Blaring lights, pyrotechnics, and stage pieces with a price tag that would make Tony Stark sweat are the norm. But lately bands have been changing that. Acts with more stripped down sounds have been able to book arenas and do it with considerably less production. This leads to less produced shows, with that feeling of spontaneity and intimacy that you’d find in a small club. That’s exactly what Weezer were able to convey at Mohegan Sun Arena. Admittedly, the venue has a capacity that’s considerably less than most arenas, but if anything that’s a bonus. Capturing the feel of a massive space while playing inside one that’s technically smaller is no easy feat. Both visually and audibly, Weezer did exactly that. They’re not the type of band to spend millions on an extravagant stage with elaborate stage design and musically restricting visuals. Which made the show that much more enjoyable.
First on stage for the night was the Kentucky grown band, Sleeper Agent. Hailing from the very same city that gave us Cage the Elephant, these guys (and gal) put out one of the best albums you could find last year and have been touring relentlessly ever since. Having seen Sleeper Agent in venues ranging from dimly lit bars to 2000+ capacity clubs, it was a totally different experience hearing them in an arena. As is, their sound takes new life when performing live, not only because of the boundless energy emanating from the band itself but the sheer volume that’s added to the music. This was increased tenfold at Mohegan Sun Arena. Tracks like ‘Young Blood’ had the seats literally shaking, thanks in large part to the booming basslines of Lee Williams. Nearly every track’s sound took on a new life, the guitar chords screaming louder, the drum beats pounding harder, the vocals echoing stronger; all resulting in a much richer, fuller sound. Coming from playing garages and tiny bars in Bowling Green, KY to a 10,000 seater in Connecticut, it was clear that Sleeper Agent made a new step forward in their career. Playing almost every track off their 2011 debut Celebrasion, the infectious vibes teeming from the stage without a doubt struck a chord with the audience.
Having a nearly packed crowd by the time they hit the stage, something not too common for the support band, they took full advantage and had the crowd feeling it very early on in the set. Of course with tracks like ‘Bottomed Out’, ‘Force a Smile’, and ‘Proper Taste’ starting off the set, it’s easy to see how. Even the somewhat slower tracks like ‘That’s My Baby’ (which they’re currently working on the video for) and their unique cover of the xx’s ‘VCR’ had the audience enthralled. The work of vocal duo Tony Smith (also guitarist) and Alex Kandel flowed together perfectly, both playing off and complimenting each other in deeper ways than before. Highlights of the set without a doubt were the band’s latest single ‘Get Burned’, which they recently performed on Jimmy Fallon, and the closing track ‘Be My Monster.’ The latter of which seemed to bring us the very best of every band member. From the very start the guitar work is layered wonderfully thanks to guitarist Josh Martin, which is nearly overpowered by the synth skills of renaissance man Scott Gardner, who also beats wildly on a single snare drum during the song’s breakdown. Speaking of said breakdown, it’s almost always the single best part of any Sleeper Agent gig. The band is usually pretty active across the stage as is, but during this Caribbean rock jam that would have Rastafarians and indie kids alike rocking out they were absolutely free, with drummer Justin Wilson’s hair a yellow blur as Gardner leaped to smash on his tall cymbal. Though it’s part of the song, it felt more like an impromptu jam, with the entire band completely loose and carefree. The nerves of playing to such a large crowd (if they were there any) were nonexistent, as they band played an incredible set. Even though they come from garage rock and house party beginnings, it’s clear that Sleeper Agent are headed for an arena crowd they can call their own.
After a quick changeover, Weezer took the stage. Touting nothing besides a large, illuminated, hanging fixture of the band’s logo, they ripped through a set packed with hit after hit. Starting off with favorites like ‘My Name is Jonas’ and ‘Troublemaker’, the audience was into it very early on. Singing along loudly and jumping like crazy people, the crowd was clearly feeding off the raw energy the band exerted from the stage. To try and list every hit they played would be nearly impossible as nearly every track they played was instantly recognizable, and this is coming from somewhat of a casual fan. Usually when seeing a band whose entire catalogue you’re not extremely familiar with there’s always a handful of songs you won’t know. Not the case here. Track after track was a hit, evidence by the crowd’s intense cheering merely seconds into every song. Of course some tracks were absolute standouts, ‘(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To, ‘Hash Pipe’, and ‘Dope Nose’ just to name a few. The unmistakable riffs to each song all got instant screams from the audience and their irresistibly catchy choruses were impossible not to sing along to. Though they’ve been at it for nearly 20 years now, the youthful energy of front man Rivers Cuomo (sporting his trademark khakis and cardigan) jumping around the stage like a madman and proving that nerds can be rock stars too. Playing in his home state, Rivers gave thanks to the hometown crowd, constantly leaning over the barricade into the crowd and even jumping down off the stage just to get closer to fans. Weezer too sounded amazing in an arena, and though bassist Scott Shriner seemed to have some technical problems, the band sounded impeccable.
Of course Weezer show wouldn’t be the same without some unlikely (and slightly goofy) covers. This time it was ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ by Tommy James & The Shondells and Poison’s ‘Talk Dirty to Me.’ Both of them played extremely well, not only taking on that special Weezer sound but also being well-known enough that the audience didn’t miss a beat. ‘Talk Dirty to Me’ was played as part of the encore, along with ‘Say it Ain’t So,’ a song combination that seemed to dispel the usual “leave after the main set” people in the crowd. It’s rare where the entire crowd sticks around for the entire show, but when a band is playing as good as Weezer did, it’s easy to understand why. It’s refreshing to see a band play when not in support of a specific album. There were no “ugh here’s a new song” moments that tend to happen at shows, instead Weezer cranked out hit after hit during the 90 minute set at Mohegan Sun. They were there simply to put on a stellar rock show and to show that you don’t need an expensive stage rig to blow the roof off an arena.