By Michael Aushenker
“Konnichiwa, Nihon!” they shouted. “Hello, Japan!”
Taking the stage in matching blue plaid shirts, the band introduced themselves as Scott & Rivers. “Scott” was Scott Murphy of the alternative rock group Allister; “Rivers” was Rivers Cuomo. Yes, that Rivers Cuomo.
As the lead singer/songwriter of Weezer, Cuomo has played to audiences by the thousands at stadiums, arenas, Lollapalooza and Coachella. But on Monday night, Cuomo and Murphy played an unpublicized acoustic guitar set at the intimate TRiP in Santa Monica before about 150 people … much of it in Japanese.
“Arigato! I’m used to no one understanding what I’m talking about,” joked Cuomo, a self-deprecating wink-wink to his image as an introvert, before launching into a song called “Splash.” But this time, he had a good reason: He and Murphy were taping a performance for Japanese television.
With the help of Santa Monica resident Rico Tanaka, director Mino Chiemi, who has spent 20 years directing variety shows in Japan, oversaw a pair of cameramen set up in a corner to film Rivers & Cuomo for “Cool Japan,” a show on Japan’s NHK network. She and her crew flew from Japan solely to film Scott & Rivers at this appearance.
After an hour of preparations in which Cuomo and Murphy set up their own sound check, the “Cool Japan” cameras began rolling and the duo delved into a handful of tunes from their “Scott & Rivers” EP, released last March on Universal’s Japanese label. The half-hour set included “Homely Girl,” a song Cuomo wrote with Japanese songwriter Shusui in 2009, and another called “Freakin’ Love My Life.”
In most songs, the hooks (sample: “It’s a party every night/I freakin’ love my life!”) were sung in English with verses in Japanese.
With Weezer, Cuomo is best known for melodic radio rock staples such as “Say It Ain’t So,” “Hash Pipe,” “Island in the Sun,” “Beverly Hills” and “Pork and Beans.” But for the closer, Rivers and Murphy reserved the song that broke Weezer into the big time: 1994’s “Buddy Holly” (and there’s no Japanese word for “Mary Tyler Moore”).
Hot off their set, Murphy and Cuomo spoke to The Argonaut about the genesis of their J-Pop love affair as Cool Japan’s crew interviewed eager attendees near the bar (“We want to know what American people think about Japanese [culture],” explained Chiemi).
With Chicago-based Allister in 2001, Murphy explained, “we recorded a song [‘Shima Uta’] that did really well.” So in 2006, Allister recorded “The Boom,” an entire album in Japanese. It went gold.
After 15 years, Allister broke up following their 2010 album “Countdown to Nowhere,” and, as a solo act, Murphy found himself digging deeper into recording songs in Japanese. Cuomo, who had learned the language after meeting his Japanese wife, caught wind of Murphy’s act and reached out to him via “Countdown” producer Shawn Everett, who also co-produced Weezer’s last two releases, “Hurley” and “Death to False Metal,” in 2010.
“I wanted to play Japanese songs,” Cuomo said. “It’s so hard!”
Japan has a special kind of energy, according to Cuomo.
“I just have the best time when I go there with Weezer,” he said.
Although Allister has reunited and Weezer is due back in the studio to record their next album, Cuomo said he wants to continue with Scott & Rivers.
“I’m in it for life!” Cuomo said. “It’s a completely different experience for me. It’s definitely necessary.”
As for the matching shirts, Cuomo pointed to the monogrammed “S & R” stitched over his heart, demonstrating that these were custom-made. The Weezer singer had figured that cartoon-cute appearances play well with the Japanese.
Hosting this impromptu concert were TRiP’s new owners, Jon Stevenson and Hans Goplen. Goplen — a seasoned chef who has worked at The Farm in Beverly Hills and has a new restaurant, El Diner, opening up at Mid-Wilshire’s El Rey Theatre in March — said to expect more high-profile appearances at the new TRiP, which will also “tone it down” on its past reliance on psychedelic blues and jam bands.
Eyeing the rock star Cuomo onstage, “it’s part of what we’re going to do as the new owners,” said Goplen. In six weeks, TRiP will go through renovations to create an environment designed “so any artist can pop in and jump onstage,” he said.
After the short-but-sweet set, Cuomo graciously posed with a steady crush of fans for smart-phone photos.
Scott & Rivers next play Pomona before moving onto bigger fish Feb. 13 through 17 — opening for Cuomo’s bacon-bringing band on the Weezer Cruise, a concert at sea with a private beach party in the Bahamas. “Island in the Sun,” indeed.