There are maybe 30 of us squished into the Reuters Studio in Times Square to watch alt-rock barons Weezer play a set for the Hewlett-Packard- and Intel- sponsored original digital series Live Beats, produced and distributed by the Digital Broadcasting Group (DBG). Similar to DBG’s collaboration with Coca-Cola on the Diet Coke Style Series, the concert is being streamed live across hundreds of web properties as well as the Reuters and NASDAQ video billboards just outside.
The video techs are crankily ordering us about, herding us like cattle into various crevices of the room that aren’t littered with camera, sound and web-broadcasting equipment.
I end up dead center, with a crane camera swooping inches above my coif, another camera operator elbowing me and a grumbling techie brushing past me repeatedly to grab a portable light display. There’s a lot of yelling between the film crew, some of it so loud that I can hear the cursing in the control room from the cameraman’s earpiece — being ornery is a apparently a quality of tech people that transcends medium.
It occurs to me I’ve never attended a live video broadcast; a peer from Forbes cracks that this is what it must have been like to be on MTV’s TRL. He glances over at a setlist in front of a fair deal of gear and sighs: “Nothing from the ‘Blue Album.'” Dammit.
With a close crop and round plastic frames, Rivers Cuomo enters the studio at the beginning of the broadcast looking like he just left the triple Lamda house in “Revenge of the Nerds.” He shyly takes his seat and crosses his arms over a Marty-McFly-approved lifevest and layered striped shirts — horizontal and vertical.
Bringing geek culture to the mainstream through sludgy pop tunes has always been his shtick, and Weezer has been deservedly successful over the years. It takes talent to right an emotional song that references both Dungeons & Dragons and X-Men dolls (“In the Garage,” one of my favorites). Though he just turned 40 and gushes about his three-year-old daughter, Cuomo is geek-rocking it as hard as ever, promoting recent album “Raditude” and previewing another one set for this fall.
HP is using the event to promote its HP Envy laptop with Beats Audio software and wiring, developed in partnership with rapper/producer Dr. Dre and producer and Interscope mastermind Jimmy Iovine. Before the show, an HP rep lets me take a listen to the optimally wired Envy, souped up with Beats software and abetted by Beats headphones. I’m suitably impressed — while most laptops make digital music sound like refried crap, the Envy along with the headphones offer the richness of studio reference monitors, with enhanced bass, warmer mids, and softer highs.
Tying it all together, during the opening interview hostess Allison Hagendorf, who hails from FUSE’s “The Pop Show,” approriately asked Cuomo if it was important to hear all the nuances the band adds in the studio stand out when a user listens in any situation. Of course, of course!
Finally the rest of the band enters, take their positions and launch into “Beverly Hills.” Cuomo is surprisingly guitar-less — which makes me a bit sad because he knocks out killer riffs — but this frees him up to play frontman, a role he relishes in. He hams it up for the camera, posing and crawling all over the studio, even grabbing the portable light unit from the grumbling techie at one point, which makes me burst into laughter.
I have a clear view of the Reuters outside screen, which cuts between slightly delayed studio footage and the good-sized crowd in the street, watching the broadcast and listening to the tunes on their mobiles. HP reps are also in the square demoing the Envy in conjunction with Beats software and headphones.
HP has also gone all-out in social media — on the elevator ride up to the studio, I run into Claire Butler, who won tickets to this intimate show via Twitter contest. The longtime Weezer fan has only followed the band for a few months and never won anything before on the social network. Across the way, I see her bop up and down as Cuomo dances and sings — is she blushing?
After some more tete-a-tete with Hagendorf, the band hits a new song I don’t recognize. As I’ve grown older, it’s been harder to keep up with the bands I obsessed over in my youth. Though they’re not playing the soundtrack of my adolescence, I can’t help smiling, nodding my head and cheering as Cuomo circles the room.
That little geek inside me who loves loud rock music is absolutely overjoyed and will not be contained. His name is Jonas and he’s carrying the wheel.