- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2001

The nerdy rock quartet Weezer is starting a comeback tour of sorts. Five years have passed since the group's last album, and the grunge market in which it once prospered is dead.

With Weezer's recent tour selling out almost exclusively on line through a special Yahoo concert Web site, the once popular rockers still seem to have a strong, albeit on-line, audience.

They return Friday to American University's Bender Arena, which they last played in 1995. Weezer fans picked the Get Up Kids as the opening act, using a poll on the band's Web site.

Weezer was formed in Los Angeles in 1992 by guitarist, singer and songwriter Rivers Cuomo; bassist Matt Sharp; and drummer Patrick Wilson. The group was on the Los Angeles club circuit for little more than a year before it got signed by DGC Records in 1993.

The band added second guitarist and vocalist Brian Bell before recording its first record that year.

Odd publicity maneuvers have been a trademark for the band since its self-titled debut album was released in 1994. The blue album, so-called because it features a police-lineup-style photo of the group against a blue backdrop, became a surprise hit.

This came at the same time the band went on hiatus while Mr. Cuomo started studying at Harvard University. The videos for the group's first songs, "Undone — The Sweater Song" and "Buddy Holly," directed by Spike Jonze of "Being John Malkovich" fame, gained regular rotation on MTV.

The innovative technique Mr. Jonze used to splice the band into old footage from the TV show "Happy Days" turned members into alternative-rock heroes, a label they were not necessarily comfortable wearing.

"We've been concerned with … appealing to a wide variety of people," Mr. Bell said in an interview in 1995, "but why even do this unless you change someone's life from it, be it an 8-year-old or a 40-year-old?"

Critics attacked the group as a one-hit wonder, criticism Mr. Cuomo seemed to take to heart when writing the band's second album, "Pinkerton." It was released in 1996 as a loose concept album based on the opera "Madama Butterfly," and Weezer decided to do no creative videos to publicize it.

In a music market that was starting to tire of grunge and alternative rock (the Spice Girls released their first album that year), the record got little airplay.

The band took another break as several members pursued other projects. (Mr. Sharp left to join the Rentals, and Mr. Cuomo was studying at Harvard.) To the rest of the world, the group effectively had disbanded, but fans kept their love for the group alive on the Internet.

Weezer re-formed to do a few club shows around the country last year, filling a special spot on the punk-rock Warped tour.

"We were sure people were gonna throw things at us, 'cause we're not a punk band," Mr. Cuomo said in a January interview with the Web site CDNow. "But everyone loved us there, and the whole rest of the summer sold out. Now this Yahoo tour is selling like crazy. We keep getting surprised."

The band has such a strong following that off-line publicity has been scant.

"They have a very wired, rabid fan base," says Tiffany Hein, brand manager for Yahoo Entertainment, the promoter of the tour. "They've been so communicative through the Net."

Weezer became the headliner for this year's Yahoo Outloud tour largely because of those fans, she says. Because the tour was targeting a younger demographic, ticket prices were lowered, and most sales were made on line.

A bulk of new material and positive feedback from audiences last summer helped give Weezer the push to record a third album, to be released this spring.

Whether the band is able to break back into the mainstream probably will be determined by that yet-untitled album.

"I just wake up in the morning and write a song every day and throw out the old ones," Mr. Cuomo says on CDNow. "I guess it sounds pretty much like our other records. It's kind of heavy pop music."

WHAT: Weezer, with opening act the Get Up KidsWHERE: American University's Bender Arena, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW.WHEN: 7 p.m. FridayTICKETS: $20PHONE: 202/432-SEAT.

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