Weezer up next in Austin as more bands playing entire records in order, live
After walking on stage at ACL Live last month, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven lead singer David Lowery alerted the crowd that the bands might deviate slightly from their planned and advertised mission of playing two classic albums front to back in their entirety.
"We've done this nine times already," he said then of the tour showcasing Cracker's hit 1993 album "Kerosene Hat" and Camper Van's envelope-pushing "Key Lime Pie."
"We're getting kind of bored."
Small doses of variety came after each album's performance, when the bands dipped into their back catalogs for some hits and live favorites from other albums. But the unquestioned focus of the night was those albums played whole and with next to no interaction with the crowd to re-create the feeling of listeners' experience of hearing those albums for the first time.
It's a side of the live music experience that's growing in popularity seemingly by the month, with Austin getting a big dose recently. Besides the Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven visit, British rock band Echo and the Bunnymen brought the tour of "Crocodiles" and "Heaven Up Here" to La Zona Rosa in early May, while grunge founding fathers the Melvins spent two nights at the Mohawk over Memorial Day weekend, with each night focused on playing from a specific group of early records.
Canadian power trio Rush will perform their "Moving Pictures" album June 11 at the Erwin Center. And next week , Stubb's will host two retro-minded nights of Weezer, with Monday featuring its debut "Blue Album" played whole and its follow-up "Pinkerton" getting the honors on Tuesday.
For Weezer, highlighting its two most influential and successful records is a smart marketing play to get some repeat customers for two nights of shows — both sold out quickly — and possibly win back early fans who strayed when the band's albums from the 2000s didn't make the same impact.
Lowery of Cracker said in an interview last month that it was mainly commercial interests that prompted his bands to dust off their biggest albums for the live treatment.
Because Camper Van Beethoven hadn't released anything new since 2004 and wanted to tour before heading back into the studio, the hope was fans would turn out to hear one of their most well-regarded albums played whole, including songs rarely if ever played live.
The gambit appeared to pay off somewhat, with the reception to the albums and their seldom-played material drawing warm approval at the ACL Live show even if the venue was only half full. Echo and the Bunnymen drew mixed reactions from a packed house at La Zona Rosa — sticking to a set list with almost exclusively early tracks meant crowding out later hits.
Melvins co-founder Buzz Osborne said his band's first foray into playing an album whole came at the European festival All Tomorrow's Parties, which annually invites a handful of revered bands to focus on one of their best records. The two nights in Austin that spotlighted early material were part of a seven-city tour in places where the band draws well, and its members had faith fans would be receptive to something of a niche performance.
"There are some songs that we never planned on playing live after we recorded them, so we had to go back and treat them almost like we were covering someone else on those songs," Osborne said, naming "Pearl Bomb" from the album "Houdini" as a track that basically had to be disassembled and reconstructed for the tour.
"It's been a challenge, to go back and get familiar with something like 40 songs we haven't really played in a long time, but a lot of people are coming out to both nights and they seem to like it."
If it's fair to call the albums-played-live trope a full-on movement at this point — and the recently announced Rock the Bells hip-hop tour featuring more than a half-dozen acts playing the full album card suggests that it is — then its biggest pioneers are probably the Vermont jam band Phish, which in the mid-'90s began its Halloween tradition of "musical costumes" by playing another band's classic album whole.
Beginning with the Beatles' "White Album" in 1994, the Halloween "musical costume" shows became legitimate events shrouded in mystery as fans waited to see what band and album would get the Phish live treatment.
All Tomorrow's Parties made a quasi-franchise out of the idea with its events in New York and the United Kingdom, and the annual Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago regularly incorporates full-album performances into its lineups.
Pop culture essayist and author Chuck Klosterman first experienced the full-album treatment in 2000 when reclusive Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson toured performing "Pet Sounds" — the band's crowning achievement and one of the best-regarded albums in rock history — with a full symphony.
The experience of seeing a "live living documentation" of an iconic album won him over instantly, and he sees the practice continuing with current bands that appear to be setting themselves up for shows that can bring the feel and uniqueness of a reunion tour even if a band remains active.
"Now bands are setting themselves up for this later, and you have Mastodon or Green Day creating the strong idea of an album even though that's kind of going away," he said. "I didn't realize it was becoming so widespread, that what initially seemed kind of cool and nerdy has become this stock idea everyone is doing.
"But a band like Weezer doing 'Pinkerton' all the way through, I could see that. If the band said they were going to play one record straight through, that's the one it would be."
Weezer with the Knux
When:7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
Where: Stubb's, 801 Red River St.
Cost: $55 (technically sold out)