My name is Weener

A Dallas supergroup forms to play...Weezer songs?

If you turn your back for a minute, maybe to grab a beer from the bar or go upstairs to shoot a quick game of pool, you can almost fool yourself into believing there's a different band up there onstage, headlining a Friday-night bill at Trees. Even if you face the stage and just squint a little bit, it could be someone else. And that's the whole point. The four guys onstage--guitarists Glen Reynolds (Chomsky) and Jason Weisenburg (The Commercials), bassist Mark Hughes (Baboon), and drummer Ben Burt (Pinkston)--want you to think they are someone else: Weezer.

That's right. A band with two--count 'em, two--albums to its name, both released this decade. A band that's still together. A band that will turn up on Hits of the 1990s compilations 20 years from now alongside Veruca Salt, Belly, Elastica, and Liz Phair.

Under different circumstances, given its members' individual talents, the quartet could be one of the best bands in town. But right now, as Weener, they'll have to settle for being the best cover band around, or the only good one anyway. Yet as entertaining as Weener is--and the band really does Weezer songs better than Weezer--it raises one question: Why?

Or more to the point: Whathefu...?
"I think Weener is kind of something that everybody secretly wanted, kind of like transvestite-type stuff," Reynolds says, laughing. "Everybody secretly wanted it, but they didn't know it. And it's a blast to do it. I've always loved Weezer songs. They never got as much credit as they should have for their albums. Me and Jason wanted to do a band, and this was like the ultimate opportunity to give them a proverbial pat on the back and have fun doing it. As well as trying to make some moolah in the essence of being a cover band without being a North Dallas special, you know, where we're stuck playing at Memphis or something."

Reynolds and Weisenburg first began to mull over the idea of starting a band together last spring. Reynolds' previous band, Liquid Three, was breaking up, and Bobgoblin was in the process of making itself over as The Commercials and severing its ties with MCA Records completely. They wanted to do something fun, something that would make them enjoy playing music again.

The pair had thought of forming a band ever since they started hanging out a couple of years earlier. But at that point, the idea of beginning another band that played original material didn't appeal to them, especially after the recent turns of events that had transpired in their respective bands. It was, as Reynolds says now, "kind of a dark time for self-made music." Reynolds suggested forming a Weezer cover band, so Weisenburg called Hughes and Burt to help round out the lineup. Before Reynolds knew it, he was a member of Weener.

"I'd gone to Mexico for a week, and when I came back, Jason was like, 'Well, we've already practiced once,'" Reynolds remembers. "I got together with them, and we just started practicing on Sundays, and adding songs. When we first started doing it, it was kind of a strange deal, you know, because we were completely aping a band that wasn't broken up. None of us even knew how to take it. It was almost like we wanted to mock ourselves, because it just shouldn't have been happening."

After working out almost every song on Weezer's two albums (1994's self-titled debut and 1996's Pinkerton), Weener played its first gig last fall at Club Clearview, opening for Le Freak, a group that's only purpose seems to be reminding people why disco died in the first place. Since then, the band has played to packed houses almost every time out, getting a response almost better than the real thing. Weener has even come to the attention of Weezer drummer Pat Wilson, who reportedly is flattered, according to Reynolds.

Of course, he should be, because--though the band is definitely in on the joke--Weener is a labor of love. All the members of the group are big fans of Rivers Cuomo and company's songs, and Weener is their chance to expose them to other people. Swapping lead-vocal chores, Reynolds, Weisenburg, and Hughes bound through the tunes as though they're playing their own songs; sometimes you forget they aren't. To Weezer fans in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Denton area (and judging by the size of the crowds who come out to see Weener, there are more than you'd think), Weener is the next best thing to Weezer.

"You know, what I think--and I hope this is what's happening--is that people who didn't get a chance to see Weezer, or people who weren't real familiar with Weezer are just now starting to figure it out," Reynolds says. "Hopefully, some of those people will come out to the shows and go, 'Man, that is great music' and then go out and buy the albums. Or people will realize just how good the music is. Like [tomorrowpeople frontman] Mike Gibson, after one of our shows at Clearview, came up to us and went, 'I didn't realize what a great arsenal of tunes Weezer had.'"

Since the band has already mastered all of Weezer's currently available catalog (save for Pinkerton's "Why Bother?" which the band hasn't bothered to learn), Weener is trying to get its hands on an advance copy of Weezer's latest album, due sometime this year. And nothing excites Reynolds more than the possibility of scoring an opening slot when Weezer comes back to town to tour behind its forthcoming record.

"Man, I've been fantasizing about that like most people's dads fantasize about the porno stars signing their tie or something at Legends," he says. "Totally would love that. That'd be awesome. I think that Rivers probably has a good enough sense of humor. I really think it will happen. I think it'd be really cool if they did something like--when they have their record-release party--bring us out to be their dummy band. But that's all fantasy."

Weener performs February 25 at Club Clearview with Bicycle Thief and Crash Vinyl.

Let's Fight Songs
Nobody ever said Rhett Miller wasn't a smart guy. That's why he knows the question even before it's asked: "Why the hell is our record in the jukebox at the Barley House?" he offers, his voice full of what-the-hell resignation. But, yup, that's the question, all right. The Old 97's fourth album--and the band's second for Elektra Records--will not be in stores until April 27, but already, the twang-free-at-last Fight Songs is available for a fistful of quarters at the Henderson Avenue pub. Official advance CDs, sent out to press and radio, don't even exist yet--they won't for another week--but hundreds of folks have listened to the thing over and over again.

Barley House owner Richard Whitfield did come by his copy of Fight Songs through, well, official channels: Murry Hammond, Old 97's bassist and Miller's longtime collaborator, provided Whitfield a CD-R straight from the mastering facility. Such discs are intended strictly for the band's use, but Hammond thought it would be a nice gesture nonetheless for a venue that booked the band back in the day. Still, Miller isn't entirely happy about it.

"It makes me uncomfortable," says the singer-songwriter, who, for all intents, now lives in Los Angeles. "Everybody will have formed opinions three months before the record comes out. Murry assures me it's no big whoop and a cool thank-you to the city and the fans and the friends, and so, ya know, I'm OK with it. But at this point I'm scared to death of anyone hearing it, so of course it makes me uncomfortable...I mean, I am sure there are groups of people who pump in quarters and listen to the record and critique it. And from what I've heard, most of them like it. I think only one group said they didn't like it so far." At this point, Miller lets out one of those high, swell-guy laughs.

Of course, Miller could have told Whitfield or Hammond to remove the disc from the jukebox if he was that uncomfortable with it. But he was concerned enough to call the band's new manager, Chris Blake (who once handled Toad the Wet Sprocket, poor guy), and ask him what the consequences might be of the album's being available for consumption so well in advance of the release date. After all, even radio stations don't have a single--OK, like it matters. Blake told him it was no big deal.

An Elektra spokesman who doesn't want to be named says the label isn't too thrilled with Fight Songs showing up "months ahead of time" on the jukebox. "You try to coordinate an effort to make an impact at once, and when it goes out piecemeal, it can lessen the impact," he says. "Even though this may seem minor, it's not, because every little thing like this adds up. It keeps happening and happening." He mentions that there's also a Bay Area radio station that has been playing at least one cut from the album, which is an industry no-no this far out from release. "Plus, the other thing is, from a sales point of view, if someone hears something they like on a jukebox and they can't buy it for two months, they tend to forget it."

But leave it to Rhett Miller to put the whole thing in its best perspective.
"I would rather they read the good review Spin has committed to giving it, and I'd rather just wait and let it all happen naturally," he says. "But it's not like it's the new R.E.M. record. Nobody cares that much." Boy does have a point.

--Robert Wilonsky

The Education of Arun Pandian
Arun Pandian plays on only one song on Lauryn Hill's 1998 solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It's a tune titled "Tell Him"--the hidden track, no less, certainly not an auspicious way for a 22-year-old fifth-year University of Texas senior guitarist to make his major-label debut. He doesn't even receive credit on the album. But what could the lad expect? Pandian joined Hill's posse last July, and the record was near completion. Hey, better to be hidden than not included at all.

Still, it's not such a bad gig for the Dallas native and Jesuit Academy graduate. After all, he has spent the last little while toiling away in obscure, mediocre Austin funk bands with names as obvious as they are forgettable. (One of them was something called Bisquit, though it was probably spelled funnier than that--like Bizkit. Who knows.)

Pandian's tale is one of those that ought to tug at the guitar strings of every hopeful nobody who wills himself onto a bigger stage. A couple of years ago, Pandian had heard that Wyclef Jean--Hill's padnuh in the Fugees--was looking for a guitarist. He approached Jean's road manager, Michael Hill, with a cassette of his music and offered his services. Hill told him he was mistaken: Jean wasn't looking for a guitarist, but his niece Lauryn was. So Pandian went back, made another demo--this time featuring only guitar and some sparse hip-hop beats--and sent it to Lauryn. In July, she invited him to an audition and offered him the gig.

Flash forward to February 24, 1999. On Wednesday night, during the Grammy Awards, Pandian was scheduled to perform not only with Hill, but also with scheduled guests Carlos Santana and Al Anderson, better known as Bob Marley's guitarist. The Jesuits must be very proud.

--R.W.

Scene, heard
Being cut loose from Island Records last year isn't stopping Tripping Daisy from releasing another record this year. But this one, titled The Tops Off Our Head, is available only by mail order. And it's not really even a collection of songs, per se; it's more like a compendium of "sections" (as the band refers to the seven different...songs?) that runs about 22 minutes. On the band's Web site (www.trippingdaisy.com), drummer Ben Curtis explains that the disc is meant to serve as an "intimate look" at how Tripping Daisy fashions its art: The band's songwriting process, Curtis writes, "has always begun with improvisation, finding 'moments' when the musicians have created a particularly moving piece of music. These moments are then organized and constructed into a complete and satisfying song. In finding that some of these moments cannot be re-created, the wish has always been to have a quality recording of the music exactly when it was created." Five of the sections are improvised songs; the other two are largely pre-arranged pieces, one of which is "Never My Love" by The Association--"a large source of inspiration for the band," so they say, referring to the fact that "Cherish" also shows up on the disc. Hey, we're buying 10 copies! You can too by sending $9.95 per copy to Tripping Daisy, Tops Off Our Head, P.O. Box 140407, Dallas, 75214.

Leaning House Records' latest is also its greatest...hits. Sort of. It's actually nothing more than a Sampler, hence the title. Still, 'nothing more' in this case means nothing less than the best of Dallas' jazz under-and-aboveground collected on a single disc. The sampler features selections from the Leaning House release by Earl Harvin (who, speaking of playing with major-label artists, has severed his ties with Seal), Marchel Ivery, Shelley Carrol with Members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Dave Palmer, and Fred Sanders. The Leaning House Sampler is available at CD World on Mockingbird and Greenville.

Send Street Beat your advance CDs to rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com. Better yet, don't.

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