Waiting on You

There's a long pause--20, maybe 30 seconds. Maybe longer. Rivers Cuomo, Weezer's notoriously press-shy front man, is in Tulsa, a couple of hours before his band is set to take the stage at the legendary Cain's Ballroom, "the house that Bob"--Wills, that is--"built." The doors have just opened, and the sell-out crowd is slowly trickling in, staking out its turf for Weezer's set. Tonight's opening band, Dynamite Hack, is just a formality, like every other group with whom Weezer has played on this tour, the soundtrack to a thousand sweaty fans swinging elbows and kicking ankles--jockeying for position in anticipation of the main event. They are nothing.

While the fans file in, some of them just managing to stave off tears, Cuomo is on the phone, wondering what has brought them all here. And wondering. And wondering. If not for the occasional uhs and ahs he sighs into the receiver, the beginnings and ends of a handful of responses, the line would appear to be dead. More than half a minute after the question was posed, he hits upon an answer.

"I have no idea how it happened," Cuomo says, finally. Then adds with a laugh, "But I hope we don't screw it up by playing again."

A few nights later, at Deep Ellum Live, the scene repeats itself, as it has since Weezer hit the road in June for the first time in almost four years. Lines of fans wrap around all sides of the venue like a moat made of ringer T-shirts and Chuck Taylors. Many of them are eyeing the tour bus parked at the curb, hoping for a brush with drummer Pat Wilson, guitarist Brian Bell, bassist Mikey Welsh, maybe even Cuomo if they're lucky. A few of them linger on the corner, hopefully asking any and all passersby if they happen to have an extra ticket they wouldn't mind parting with. Some wait optimistically near the box office, just in case.

For others, favors have been called in and bank accounts have been emptied for the chance to attend tonight's performance. The $15 tickets were worth 10 times that much during the frantic final days leading up to the concert, since the show sold out in about the same amount of time it took to type this paragraph. Not a single person is complaining, however. They're just glad to be here, regardless of the price or the fact that, more than likely, Weezer will be back in town early next year, around the time it's long-long-awaited third album hits stores. Well, that's the plan anyway.

"It's just bananas," says Karl Koch, a longtime friend/roommate/roadie of the band, considered by most to be the fifth member of Weezer. He's seen the phenomenon up close for the past four months. "They are so happy to be going to these shows, it's like mini-Beatlemania every day."

For many of the people here, it is as if the Beatles had reunited, since Weezer has, for the most part, been together in name only since 1996's Pinkerton came and went, touring for a couple of months in 1997 before going their separate ways. (The band last appeared in Dallas--again, at Deep Ellum Live--on December 18, 1996.) A sold-out date was a given in Dallas, seeing as how it's home to Weener, the cover band that could win a Pepsi challenge against the real thing. "If 500 people come out to see us," Weener singer-guitarist Jason Weisenburg said before the show, sitting at a table at the Angry Dog, "of course a thousand people are going to come out for Weezer."

Which they did. Dynamite Hack left the stage after its lackluster set to a loud cheer, if only because they were leaving, finally. Now that the fans had no reason to even pretend to be polite, they were piling on top of each other at the foot of the stage, pushing and shoving and yelling, "Weeee-zer! Weeee-zer! Weeee-zer! Weeee-zer! Weeee-zer! Weeee-zer! Weeee-zer! Weeee-zer!" Then, all of a sudden, the house lights dropped, and there they were, fanned out beneath a brightly lit, over-sized version of the familiar winged-W logo.

"My name is Jonas," Cuomo sang, though you could barely hear him thanks to the deafening cheer that erupted as soon as Bell started picking out the song's first few notes. Except for when the band played four new songs in the middle of the set ("Mad Kow," "Too Late to Try," "Peace and Quiet," and "Superstar"), the cheering didn't die down until well after "Surf Wax America," the last song of the night. For the rest of the show, Weezer was accompanied by several hundred backup singers. When Cuomo dropped a word, a hundred other voices picked it up.

But the question remains: Why? Why has Weezer's popularity endured--expanded exponentially, in fact--even though it has been on the sidelines since 1997? It's not as if that many people care what happened to Nada Surf and Nerf Herder, two of the bands that tried, and succeeded briefly, to use Weezer's blueprint. Of course, they learned quickly that even if you have the right plans, it won't work without the right parts. Nada Surf was only "Popular" for about five seconds, and Nerf Herder's "Van Halen" might as well have been called "In the Garage...Again"--too close to the source to pass for inspired-by, and not done well enough to count as homage. Both exist, just barely, on the fringes, waiting for Weezer's comeback so they can make one of their own.