Radio holiday concerts are always a little weird. In large part, this can be traced to the inherent, unspoken conceit that the hodgepodge of assorted artists playing are doing so to stay in good graces with said station and receive airplay. There are the up-and-comers looking for a break (Royal Blood, Vance Joy, Kongos), established acts looking to further grow their fan bases (Cage the Elephant, TV on the Radio, Young the Giant), and the established hit makers doing the station a solid (co-headliners Imagine Dragons and Weezer). Deck the Hall Ball 2014 fit the formula, offering up a consistently entertaining lineup of rock music at KeyArena last night. Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights. For more, check out the slide show recap at the bottom of the post.
The Weezer Problem
Weezer's Deck the Hall Ball set didn't feature a single song from Pinkerton. This is a crime.
It's been 20 years since the band debuted with Blue Album, and this year the band released Everything Will Be Alright in the End. During the entire lead up to the new reocord's release, the band stressed that it was a sonic throwback to the early days of Blue Album and the group's classic second LP, Pinkerton. It was an appeal to the original fans that have drifted away in bunches after an ongoing series of disappointing albums. Everything WIll Be Alright's self-aware lead single, "Back to the Shack," even directly addresses this with lines like "Sorry guys I didn't realize that I needed you so much / I thought I'd get a new audience," "Maybe I should play the lead guitar and Pat should play the drums" (and it was a welcome sight to see Cuomo playing guitar again, especially considering how awkward his stage presence was without it on the past handful of tours), and the claim for going back to "Rockin' out like it's '94." Weezer clearly figured out that fans adore Blue Album and Pinkerton far more then recent works, unfortunately the band seems to have completely misjudged the reason why people clung so tightly to them.
Here's the problem: A lack of self-awareness led to Weezer being beloved in the first place. Blue Album and Pinkerton are held up as classics in large part because Rivers Cuomo seemed to share his raw, naked emotions without an internal filter. It's not about the rocking in a sonic sense, it was always about emotional earnestness. That's what people connected with back in the day, and that's why the past years have been so brutal for Weezer fans; most everything since 2002—including "Back to the Shack"—feels so calculated. Weezer songs once felt almost too personal, like Cuomo recording excerpts from his journal as a private therapy that just happened to make it out to the public. Now he seems more concerned in trying to cater to outer sources instead of making things internal. A set featuring a performance of "Back to the Shack," but without at one song from Pinkerton feels like Weezer talking out of both sides of its metaphorical mouth. Don't play the going back to our roots card and then find time to play disposable singles like Red Album's "Pork and Beans" and Raditude's "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To," but not include Pinkerton's beloved "El Scortcho."
Weezer, you want to tap into the past? Commit. If not, move on. Most of those old fans already have.
The one bit of actual news to emerge from Deck the Hall Ball came via the night’s main headliner, Imagine Dragons. Part way through the band’s set, singer Dan Reynolds giddily announced that earlier in the day the band had finished approving masters for the second Imagine Dragons LP, due in 2015. It’s been a long time coming, as the group has been touring in support of its hit-filled debut record Night Visions since it’s release in 2012. So now Seattle is part of Imagine Dragons lore. So there's that.
Where Are the Women?
While there weren’t any real low points at this year’s Deck the Hall Ball, the lineup was more than a little homogeneous. It was a bunch of dudes playing rock music. It’s not great when Vance Joy qualifies as the lineup's change of pace because his music veers a bit more to the singer-songwriter side of the spectrum. The real disappointment was the total lack of female representation on the bill (last year's edition featured Lorde and Charity Rose Thielen of the Head and the Heart). Yes, Hollis from the Flavr Blu hopped on stage to sing a duet with Weezer, but if Weezer had just switched that song out on its set list, there would’ve been zero ladies performing over the course of an 8–hour concert. When I raised this question via Twitter, 107.7 The End responded that the culprit was booking issues.
Still, it’s a shame that it came to that. It’s not that The End should have a token female on the bill, but women are making so much good rock music that it seems ridiculous to have the sation's premiere showcase not reflect that in any way. Heck, even locally there are female-led bands that made SPIN’s year-end albums list and cracked the publication’s ten best songs of 2014 (though, admittedly, not with a radio-friendly track). Hopefully, Deck the Hall 2015 won’t be as much of a male-centric rock fest.