Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review: Weenie Roast 2014 finds firm footing with newer acts

Hot dog weenies could have literally roasted on the asphalt at the 106.5 WEND End of Summer Weenie Roast, which was an exercise in endurance, at PNC Music Pavilion Saturday. While the heat was unforgiving for much of the day, fans did show up.

The turn out for the semi-annual music festival was much, much better than when it relaunched after a six year break in 2012. That year the lineup was heavy on acts that helped form the radio station's identity in the `90s - the Offspring, Garbage, Eve 6, and Our Lady Peace. Last summer's lineup - headlined by 30 Seconds to Mars - moved to Saturday from Sunday and toward a more current bill that included AwolNation, Airborne Toxic Event, and Manchester Orchestra.

This year's Weenie continued that trend with only headliner Weezer (pictured above) and Fuel, who closed out the second stage, having any connection to the festival's first decade. Fitz & the Tantrums and Foster the People - both strong live acts that broke big in 2011 and 2013, respectively - had throngs of fist pumping fans bouncing and dancing and by the time they went on, the lawn was fairly packed. Sure, there were some empty seats, but it wasn't that obvious.

The joy that Foster the People left the crowd with continued for Weezer, who stacked its hour and 10-minute set with hits from opener "My Name is Jonas" to encore "Buddy Holly." It's set wasn't solely about nostalgia either. Later hits like 2009's "(If You're Wondering if I Want You To) I Want You To" and the recent single "Back to the Shack" (the album it's from is out October 7) received as big of a reception as older ones like "Hash Pipe."

Frontman Rivers Cuomo sings "Rockin' out like its `94" on the latter (and bemoans shows like "American Idol") and the apex of Weezer's set echoed that era with the modern rock power ballad "Say It Ain't So." Even the most passing rock fans (like my country-loving sister on the lawn) know the words to it. It, "The Sweater Song" and "Buddy Holly" - the most nostalgic songs of the night - were also the biggest sing-alongs.

Although the abbreviated set lacked any surprises or tracks off the beloved sophomore album "Pinkerton," it felt overall better than the club set Weezer did at the Fillmore this Spring. I knew plenty of people who couldn't get tickets to that show and Weezer really deserves a bigger crowd and a louder show. Even at the large amphitheater the show felt less detached thanks to the volume (although they were not the loudest band of the day) and it wasn't much shorter in length although I will say that the crowd at the Fillmore smelled much better.

Oddly, Cuomo seem to appear before Weezer's set to sound check his guitar wearing a welder's mask. Of course, I can't prove it was him since I couldn't see his face from afar, but the pants and hair looked like they belonged to the singer although he shed the jacket (which was definitely his style) before the show (see photo).

With 14 bands, none got long sets. It was more like a buffet of alt-rock from brief spots from Sir Sly and Iamdynamite early on to slightly longer ones later in the day. That meant bands like Wild Cub and J. Roddy Walston & the Business had to get its message across quickly, which made for strong, concise sets with little filler.

The show was fairly consistent throughout. Although the conditions were pretty miserable due to the heat even early in the day lesser known bands like Charlotte's own Flagship (pictured above), who opened the larger main stage, drew respectable crowds. It helped that the amphitheater was open to general admission until 4 p.m. so fans could flock to the front of the stage while enjoying the shade and seating. The show was a nice homecoming for Flagship, whose grand, atmospheric pop-rock recalls a mix of British, Scottish, and Irish acts like U2, Big Country (minus the bag pipes) and James (the latter two didn't occur to me until watching them yesterday).

While some fans huddled in the shade or rested on the hill behind the sun-baked parking lot-set second stage where they could barely see through the fence, others braved the sun for electronic act Big Data (who did a fun, squawky synth cover of Hall & Oates "Private Eyes") and the feel-good indie rock of Wild Cub. Both were greeted warmly as was Foxy Shazam, who charged through a brief set with typical chaotic abandon full of wild dancing and cigarette munching courtesy of singer Eric Sean Nally.

I was pleased that the heaviest band on the bill was the one fronted by a woman - former "Gossip Girl" actress Taylor Momsen (pictured above). She's become more comfortable on stage since the hard rock band headlined Visulite a couple of years ago adding Stevie Nicks' twirls to her headbanging and back arching. The Pretty Reckless did have to contend with the seated area being closed to lawn ticket holders by the time they went on, which cut down on the size of its immediate crowd. The solo-heavy band didn't seem to care though.

Where the Pretty Reckless was simultaneously sultry and hard, earlier multitasking indie band Bear Hands (pictured below) proved the quirkiest of the day.

Fitz & the Tantrums' Noelle Scaggs added needed soul to the festival with her boisterous belting. It's actually hard to leave a Fitz or Foxy Shazam show without smiling. The same could be said for Foster the People, who rivaled Weezer in crowd response.

Of the bands I saw, there were no duds. By the time Fitz and Foster the People went on production came into to play with half of Foster the People playing on a stage of moving discofloor-like lights that added to the danceable rock feel of its show.

Weenie Roast has regained its spot as far as annual music events go. It's nice to see it progressing musically in reflecting the "new rock," that's largely new, format.