It may have been a different show than one from a 2010 tour, but it was still Rooney.
A giant banner was hanging behind the stage at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday night, one featuring the bear of the California state flag, one that fans of early 2000s indie music would recognize even if the word “Rooney” wasn’t plastered in red lettering at the bottom. The New York crowd eagerly awaited the return to the stage of a band that last toured in 2011 and one which has recently undergone some alterations. By the end of the second song of the show, that change was unmistakable; this was not the same Rooney that was last seen performing five years ago. The first few songs played were those from the days when the California band made cameos on “The OC” and was popular amongst the mid-aughts college crowd. The lyrics and melodies went unchanged, but the look and the feel and the sound of the band were grown up versions of what they were at the band’s birth.
Coppola-clan member and Rooney frontman Robert Schwartzman is the string that ties the old Rooney to the new. During the hiatus, prior bandmates were replaced with new ones, including a woman for the first time in the band’s history. The original aesthetic was more reminiscent of a band like the Arctic Monkeys—a bunch of grungy dudes playing shows after which they were sure to score a hot, strung-out babe (one of the Rooney men dated Mischa Barton, for God’s sake). Now the group is cleaned up. Two of them had on denim jackets, along with an absurd number of their audience and a few others of had on Beach Boys-like striped shirts. These were adults, cool ones who could carry a show more on their talent than on their swagger.
A new album, Washed Away, was released at the beginning of May, marking the start of the next era for the pop-rock group. That didn’t stop Schwartzman from making the concert one that reflected the entire history of the band. Hits like “Blueside,” “I’m Shakin’” and “When Did Your Heart Go Missing” caused gleeful fans to jump, sing and spill their beer, caught up by the undertow of nostalgia. Schwartzman delivered. The rest the band made the best out of songs which they hadn’t been creators on but which they seemed to enjoy just as much as the bouncing crowd.
When new songs were given a shot, Schwartzman’s introductions read as either apologies or sales pitches. Recent singles like “My Heart Beats for You” were not met with the same exuberant delight as the old ones, but had he not pointed out their infancy most of the crowd might not have realized that they weren’t songs that they’d downloaded on Limewire in 2005. The new material is more of the same, but just as the band matured so did the music. It is still as undeniably Californian as the recent Weezer album is, but Washed Away has an edge to it that tips the scale to the rock side and away from the pop. Schwartzman took joy in playing music from Washed Away as it gave him a chance for some major guitar shredding which he ornamented with head banging under a curtain of long hair. What was more impressive was the way Schwartzman was able to bring the same energy to the songs he’s been playing since his early twenties. For that the fans were grateful. And for that the fans were more than willing to give in to the reincarnation of the band. It may have been a different show than one from a 2010 tour, but it was still Rooney.