When live performance creative duo Tawbox got the call to pitch stage design ideas to Weezer for their Hella Mega tour with Green Day and Fall Out Boy, they knew they had to pull out all the stops.
“It’s literally my favorite artists on a tour together, with one of them asking us to do something, so it was a no-brainer to put something together for it,” says Bronski, who founded Tawbox in 2012 along with partner Amber Rimell.
Since its inception, Tawbox has put together some of the most unique and daring live performances, including Stormzy’s iconic 2019 Glastonbury set, which earned the duo a BAFTA nomination for best entertainment craft team. Other notable credits include Olivia Rodrigo’s performance at the 2021 Brit Awards and Miley Cyrus’ rendition of the Beatles’ “Help!” during Global Citizen’s 2020 fundraiser. But despite all of their success, Tawbox had never put together a performance for a rock group.
“It’s quite funny — we’d never done rock music,” Bronski says. “We’re so pop music in what we do, generally. But my roots, personally, are so teenage fucking punk-rock kid.”
Bronski first saw Weezer live at the Reading and Leeds Festivals in 2002, but never would have imagined he would be creative-directing one of their tours. “I wouldn’t have even said that five years ago, let alone 20 years ago,” Bronski laughs. “I mean, they often say ‘don’t meet your heroes,’ but this was an exception to that.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Hella Mega tour was meant to align with Weezer’s 15th studio album, “Van Weezer.” When the start of the tour was inevitably delayed from March 2020 to July 2021, “Van Weezer” was pushed back as well, finally being released just before the rescheduled dates on May 7. Bronski and Rimell took the aesthetic and hard rock sound of the album and ran with it, creating an on-stage spectacle fit for only the most committed of rock gods. Accordingly, they found the bulk of their inspiration in the album’s namesake, Van Halen.
“We were kind of just like, ‘Let’s Van Everything,’” Bronski says. “There’s an amazing picture of Eddie in front of a huge stack of his guitar amplifier cabs that he just had out in a promo, so that was a big inspiration, and also in terms of the drum kit as well.”
The resulting original design included massive stacks of amplifier cabs, three huge lightning bolts in the middle of the stage, and a large drum riser with six kick drums spelling out “Weezer.”
“We put a quote at the beginning [of the pitch] to get attention. It literally said, ‘How many fucking kick drums do you want?’” Bronski recalls. Weezer — frontman Rivers Cuomo, drummer Patrick Wilson, guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Scott Shriner — were immediately all for the idea. Cuomo even took the ethos a step further, revealing a mullet at the tour’s first show in Arlington, Texas, and playing with a Jackson King V guitar.
With all the original renderings in black-and-white, the biggest aspect Weezer itself contributed was the stage’s color palette, according to Bronski.
“The guys really loved the idea of bringing color, and to be honest, that was a good thing,” Bronski says. “One thing that’s really hard with daylight shows — which essentially all of the Hella Mega tour is for Weezer — is the fact that when you’ve got sunlight blaring on your stage, it doesn’t make things look pretty, necessarily. So having a colorful set really works.”
The colors they settled on played further on the stage’s ’80s aesthetic: bright teal, deep purple and muted cherry red with hints of salmon pink. These colors also carried over to the video component of the performance, because as Bronski points out, having black pixels on a video screen during the daylight ends up looking “brown and mushy.”
“We were very bold and just literally used every single pixel on that big screen all the way through just to have it look super-sharp and clean,” Bronski says. “But when it came to the actual visuals themselves, we just played around with some of the elements that we thought were interesting. So for ‘Surf Wax America’ we got the band made up as 8-bit characters from a video game, all surfing along doing little tricks along the way. For ‘Buddy Holly,’ we just literally took the glasses and made them larger than life.”
Indeed, “larger than life” seems to be the theme of the overall creative direction for Weezer’s Hella Mega set. And since the tour was pretty much ready to go before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there weren’t many changes to that philosophy or the design itself.
“In terms of the ethos of what the Hella Mega Tour is, it’s supposed to be a big party night of rock music with three of the most insane bands altogether in stadiums, with all fans of all bands just getting a ridiculous show, and I don’t think that changed at all,” Bronski says.
However, one roadblock the pandemic threw Tawbox’s way was travel — meaning that Bronski has not been able to actually see a show live. “Fortunately, the first show of the tour, someone actually streamed the whole thing off their phone on YouTube Live, but I was getting sent videos and pictures and new drawings,” Bronski says of working remotely. “I was very much there in spirit.”
As the Hella Mega tour heads to the U.K. and Europe in summer 2022, Bronski is looking forward to seeing his work come to life right in front of his eyes.
“What I think we all love about Weezer is the commitment and the ridiculous songwriting,” Bronski muses. “An hour-long Weezer show goes so fast. There’s so many huge, huge songs — and there’s songs missing; you can’t even do them all.”