Weezer, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Too much like good, clean fun
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The Independent Culture

Somewhere around 10pm, the lights cut out. It's the signal for Weezer to finally, dramatically take the stage, just as the crowd are considering turning ugly. But the huge cheers make it apparent that the mysterious fervour around this band is a forgiving one. Though they've barely registered in the mass media since their 1995 hits "Sweater Song" and "Buddy Holly", and in the interim their singer Rivers Cuomo has admirably put the band on hold to go to college, their popularity seems undiminished. They're the very definition of a cult band, and yet, after tonight's short set, it's still hard to fathom why.

Cuomo, in his collegiate jacket and thick-rimmed glasses, and his three band-mates, who look like extras from That '70s Show, saunter on, launch into "Photograph" from their just-released third LP The Green Album, and it's greeted like an old favourite by the surging, bouncing crowd. And pretty much the same thing happens, song by song, until they leave. Though their path to popularity in the US was paved by Nirvana (and a couple of funny videos), and there is a nagging, pensive undertow to their work, there's also something strangely conservative about it. The questioning, subversion and barrier-breaking usually associated with a band with such devoted acolytes is wholly absent. Their sound uniformly marries Seventies FM rock and New Wave in a tight, disciplined, quite heavy manner, Matt Sharp's chopping, repetitive bass riffs defining music that's claustrophobic in its inability to take off or explode. Every tune's catchy, but seems to butt up against its three-minute limit and stylistic confines, too.

While the band occasionally amuse themselves striking ironic guitar-god poses, the fans become the biggest visual distraction, as a steady stream of crowd-surfers head towards the stage in identical, considerately boots-in-the-air fashion, no one getting near the band, or losing control. Maybe this sort of sternly limited release is all they expect from pop.

Cuomo's powers of projection don't help his attempts to communicate, either (sample audible bit of chat to the crowd: "So this is England. Mumble..."). This isn't to say that Weezer don't play tunes here tonight that are perfectly fine, or that stray lyrics don't float out of their buzzing depths and sound nagging, weird, even moving. "Island in the Sun", for instance, The Green Album's best song and next single, is prettily addictive, and seemingly about a loving emotional refuge that balances the semi-serious angst elsewhere. There's nothing badly wrong with Weezer, and their records are good fun. It's just that, as they predictably finish their pre-encore set with their biggest hit, "Buddy Holly", the lack of spontaneity and inspiration leaves me cold.