For a long time, being a Weezer fan also meant being a Weezer apologist. While few can argue the impact and alt-pop perfection of the first two albums in the band’s discography, the jury has largely been split on pretty much anything frontman Rivers Cuomo and the gang have brought to the table in roughly the last 15 years — and that’s sort of putting it mildly.

Fortunately, their latest album, Everything Will Be Alright In The End, tapped into everything that was great about Weezer’s ’90s albums and played to their strengths as a group. That aesthetic also has been applied to their current tour, which has found them playing more intimate theater spots in between larger radio festivals.

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The first time I saw Weezer was back in 2002 when they were supporting their fourth album, Maladroit. Cuomo was sporting a full-on grizzly beard and a curmudgeonly attitude to match. This was an era in which his stoic demeanor was the stuff of message board legend — he was doing interviews in which he called the most die-hard sector of his fanbase “little bitches,” he refused to play any songs off the beloved Pinkerton album, and the alleged tension between the band members was painfully apparent by their interaction on stage. It was the beginning of what seemed like the end.

The Weezer that played the sold-out Observatory in Santa Ana on December 17th could not have been any further from the aforementioned description. Kicking things off with an acoustic set that ran through both hit singles and more treasured album cuts (including four Pinkerton songs), the band was stripped of any of the sense of grandeur that is typically attributed to “big rock bands.” The house lights remained on the entire time, and there was a generally warm feeling of connectivity between the musicians and the audience. Plus they played rare b-side “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly.” Surely a sign of gratitude and goodwill to the die-hards, right?

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Immediately after the acoustic set came the full-on spectacle, with EWBAITE being showcased from front to back. Despite the fact that the album is one of the more layered pieces that Weezer has created in some time, they were able to totally replicate the songs live. While nothing deviated from the sequence and runtime of the recorded versions, watching them pull it off live was still captivating. Guitar heroics were a staple of the 13 songs, culminating with “The Futurescope Trilogy,” which found Cuomo, bassist Scott Shriner, and guitarist Brian Bell trading licks and flawlessly executing ’80s metal-style lead lines in jaw-dropping unison.

But beyond the musical feats, the band members generally seemed happier than they did all those years ago. Their chemistry was definitely palpable, and Cuomo is definitely one hell of a frontman. He certainly seems more youthful in spirit and (bizarrely) in physical appearance than he did way back when.

By the time the band crushed their way through their encore of Red Album rock opera “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived,” the venue had been verifiably rocked. The band took their triumphant bow, a gesture that was not just appropriate for their impressive performance, but symbolic for where they stand today in the canon of rock music. Prophetically enough, everything has turned out alright in the end for Weezer — and with any luck, there will be more to come.

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