Sometimes, it’s good to be a geek.
"Weird Al" Yankovic
3 Jul 2003: NTelos Pavilion Portsmouth, Virginia
Well, okay, not really.
Sometimes, though, you feel more comfortable about admitting you’re a geek than you do at other times . . . and one of those times, without question, is when you’re sitting in the audience at a “Weird Al” Yankovic show.
I’ve written time after time about how a copy of the Beatles’ 20 Greatest Hits changed my view on music, how Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols changed it yet again, and how Morrissey’s lyrical angst helped get me through the tough emotional times immediately after high school . . . but it’s amazing how hard it is to admit that I readily taped “The Dr. Demento Show” every week and never failed to laugh at Kip Adotta’s “Wet Dream” or “Boot To The Head”, by the Frantics.
For all the importance that I’ve attributed to songs like “I Am The Walrus” and “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” over the years, when I sit down and really think about it, I find that it’s not so terribly hard to put “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Eat It” up there as well. I mean, I’d never heard of the guy before then, but, once I saw the video for the song, I ran out and bought In 3-D, then promptly bought its predecessor, Al’s self-titled debut; since then, I’ve bought every single studio album the guy’s put out.
Yeah, that’s right. I like “Weird Al” Yankovic. I’m not sure that that, in and of itself, makes me a geek, but, at the very least, it probably keeps me solidly treading in the general vicinity of geekdom.
The thing that’s hardest to get across to those uninitiated to the “Weird Al” Yankovic concert experience, though, is that it’s really, really entertaining, even if you’re not a geek. Just ask my wife. She’ll be the first to tell you that, when I dragged her to her first Al show, she only came along because she loved me; she’ll also tell you that, when we went to see him this time around, she was at least as excited as I was, perhaps more so.
Al, you see, is a showman. There’s never a dull moment. There were over a dozen costume changes during the course of the evening, and, if any of them required Al to leave the stage, time was filled courtesy of the video screen, which broadcast Al-TV, portions of UHF (Al’s oft-maligned feature film), or random images from various classic TV shows. Immediately before taking the stage, in fact, there was a brief montage of talk show hosts from the last two decades—Carson, Letterman, Arsenio, and more—introducing Al to their respective programs.
Al’s aware of his place in the public consciousness, and he’s not afraid to flaunt his accomplishments. His appearances on The Simpsons and in The Naked Gun pop up, and, proving that he’s not afraid to make fun of himself, so does the reference to him on King of the Hill. (Hank says something to Bobby to the effect of, “Don’t be stupid son! “Weird Al” Yankovic blew his brains out in the late 80’s when people stopped buying his albums.”)
Yankovic took the stage to the strains of “Couch Potato”, his parody of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”. He wore a hooded sweatshirt, lookin’ much more gangsta-like that you’d ever expect a white boy like Al to be able to pull off. “Couch Potato” resulted in a bit of press for Al when Eminem refused to allow him to make a video for the song; later in the show, an edited-together interview between Al and Eminem—compiled from stock interview footage of Eminem very clearly not done with Al—shows that Al’s not afraid to keep the feud going.
Poodle Hat, Yankovic’s new album, understandably proved to be the musical focus for the opening of the show. “Couch Potato” was followed by “Angry White Boy Polka”, a polka medley of recent hit songs (something that’s been a staple of Al’s albums throughout the majority of his career) that featured a video backdrop of the original videos, sped up to match Yankovic’s performance. Next up was “Party At The Leper Colony”, which includes about as many predictable but funny jokes about body parts falling off left and right as you’d expect. Later, “Trash Day” (a parody of Nelly’s “Hot In Herre”), “A Complicated Song” (from Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”, naturally), and the lecherous “Wanna B Ur Lovr” receive stage time as well.
Longtime fans of the Yankovic oeuvre were clearly ecstatic to hear such chestnuts as “Dog Eat Dog” and “Melanie”, from Polka Party!, a lesser commercial successful, though one which brought the world “Living With A Hernia”. “Dog Eat Dog”, which borrows its general feel from the Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime”, resulted in Al coming out in a large white suit, a la Stop Making Sense; sure, the joke’s been done before, but it’s no less funny for it. “Melanie”, meanwhile, is another Yankovic original, and, frankly, it’s as catchy a pop song as any of the tracks the guy parodies; it was a highlight of the show, and one of the most pleasant surprises of the evening that he chose to rescue it from his back catalog rather than, say, a parody like “Like A Surgeon”.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Yankovic’s parodies. Far from it; some of them might be a little too silly (“I Want A New Duck” leaps immediately to mind), but, for every one of those, there’s one that’s genuinely clever throughout. (Step forward, “Amish Paradise”.) But Al’s ability to write original songs is all too often forgotten, and it’s nice that, after so many years, he’s got enough of a stalwart audience that he can afford to skip a few of the parodies and perform more originals. (Other originals to be spotlighted during the evening included “Your Horoscope For Today”, from Running With Scissors, as well as “One More Minute,” from the seminal Dare To Be Stupid.
With so many albums to his name, Al finds it necessary to perform a lengthy medley that covers numerous hits and popular tracks from throughout his career. The thing is, a lot of his songs arguably work better in such a context; right about the time you’re thinking, okay, I get it, that’s funny…bam, you’re on to the next song. The medley featured songs from his first album (“My Bologna”), his current album (“eBay”, “Ode to a Superhero”), and more than a few in between (“Pretty Fly For A Rabbi”, “Jurassic Park”, “Gump”, “Lasagna”, and, yes, “Eat It”).
The main set came to an almost-immaculate close with the triad of “Smells Like Nirvana” (where he’s dressed in the Kurt Cobain attire from the video), “Amish Paradise” (Al and his entire band are dressed as Mennonites, complete with beards), and “Fat”, where Al comes out wearing the fat suit from the video. When he returns for the encore, he’s dressed in his Jedi robes and performs the one-two punch of “The Saga Begins” and “Yoda”.
The most unfortunate thing about this review is that it involves a tremendous degree of trust. I can preach the gospel of the “Weird Al” Yankovic live experience ‘til I’m blue in the face, and the majority of folks will inevitably scoff, “Yeah, but…c’mon, it’s ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic!’”
Yeah, it sure is. And the guy puts on as entertaining a show as you’re likely to see. If you dare to check him out and go in with the right mindset, you’ll find yourself a believer.
// Notes from the Road
"Josh Ritter kicks off a string of summer U.S. shows with rousing free performance at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival.READ the article