Music

Weird Al Yankovic (Mann Music Center, 31Jul2015)

NEW Clay Says graphic Ernie

A performer who’s been working his craft for well over 30 years needs no introduction, so I won’t waste time here explaining who Weird Al is, or why he’s one of the most amazing, entertaining musical artists of the last half-century.  I’ve personally been listening to Al since the early 1980s—I can remember receiving a boxy analog tape-deck as a Christmas gift, and soon after, a childhood friend bringing some tapes to play at my house.  One of these tapes was Mr. Yankovic’s Dare To Be Stupid.

I have a distinct memory of not exactly ‘getting it’ at first—I had little experience with parody as an art form, and almost no familiarity with the songs and genres he was approximating.  But my friend was insistent that we (repeatedly) listen to the tape, and I think I ended up borrowing the cassette…and the rest was history.  Al was—as would be the case for so many young men of following generations–my first true musical love.  Soon enough, another friend got ahold of earlier albums including the self-titled Weird Al Yankovic and the hilarious follow-up, Weird Al in 3D.  So, I  wasn’t quite there from the very beginning, but by joining the fray for his 3rd release (of a current 14-and-counting records), I’d say my friends and I got in near the ground floor as soon-to-be veteran Yankovic fans.

Fast forward 30 years beyond 1985’s Dare to Be Stupid.  It is a Friday afternoon in summer 2015, my wife and I are planning on attending a Shakespeare play on a hot summer evening . . . and then I get a message from a friend, reminding me that Al is not only playing my city, but is appearing at an awesome a venue only 3.5 miles from my front door.  Screw The Bard; we’re going to see the Accordion Maestro.

A real fan at a real show....this guy is definitely more hardcore than me

A real fan at a real show….this guy is definitely more hardcore than me

Tara asked me a great question on the way to the show . . . “what do you think the crowd at an Al concert will be like?”  I’d been wondering the same thing, but my gut instinct proved to be correct—it’s a wide mix of folks. Al’s audience, at least on this particular evening, wasn’t predominantly a kiddie affair (although there were certainly whole families with many young lads in tow), and the scene didn’t strike me as straight-awkward as, say, a Dweezil Zappa concert.  Instead, many fans looked mostly like myself—youngish guys ranging from their 20s to their 40s, almost all of them sporting a unapologetically nerdy tee-shirt or other geek-culture symbols (Tara even spotted a multicolored Al Yankovic ankle tattoo—certainly an impressive salute).  Honestly, I felt pretty damn comfortable with the sort of audience that attended this concert—Al appeals to a huge variety of social groups and age ranges, and in spite of it being our first Al gig, Tara and I meshed seamlessly with the herd.

Among the barrage of video clips that supplemented the show, this one was brand new to me . . . I’d never heard about the time Al admonished George R.R. Martin at the 2014 Emmys:

It wasn’t exactly a surprise to me, but I need to get this off my chest, since it bothered me for the entire show–for inexplicable reasons, almost all of the audience sat in their seats throughout the entire gig…….the opener, all of the most rocking tunes, the encore—these folks were on their asses.  I never understand this, honestly—like, doesn’t everyone imagine (or want) great concerts to be a standing up, fist-pumping affair?  With this in mind, I’m pretty glad that we’d opted for the cheapest tickets possible ($30 at the gate), which allowed us (in accordance with the pleasantly lax seating policies at The Mann) to take some empty aisle seats in the dead-last row of the pavilion.  As a result, we never actually saw our ticketed seats, but we did manage to be 2 of the only folks in the entire place who (gasp!) stood and danced the entire evening.  Thankfully, our excitement did eventually rub off on a few folks nearby; by the end of the gig, an older gentleman was doing his best ‘dad-dance’ in the aisle behind us, and two other neighboring fans did eventually get to their feet for the final section of the show, victoriously allowing their inner-Al out for the whole world to see.

And now, the show: I’ll transcribe the setlist here to the best of my ability.  However, the concert included frequent use of video clips that serve as segueways (and costume change delays) between live songs, and it is basically impossible to document those segments of the show.  These videos were mashups of Al’s media and pop-culture appearances, along with snippets of his own MTV and internet videos.  In keeping with his longtime channel-surfing ethos, the videos would flicker and flash across vast periods of Al’s career, falling all the way back to, say, 1980s Hawaiian-shirted Al singing Eat It, then flashing forward to images of Al dressed as Isaac Newton in an epic rap battle, then fading to middle-career breakout moments of Al in a fat suit, or Alex Trebek introducing Jeopardy categories based on Al songs, or Al appearing on The Simpsons . . . you get the idea.

With an incredibly long and amazing life in media and song, it’s inevitable that even hardcore fans could miss bits of Al’s internet fame—here’s one that stuck out to me:

There were a lot of videos (Al played a big show, and needed a lot of costume/prop-set-up breaks), and it was impossible to track or even digest them all.  For most performers, such constant use of self-serving montage would probably seem grotesque and hyper-narcissistic.  In Al’s universe, the biting self-parody and unflinching celebration of his own awkward persona instead plays like perfectly-honed fan service, tongue firmly in cheek.  Given Al’s fondness (per, like, half his song catalog) for cornball television and couch-potato lifestyle jokes, visual clips are really the only way one could really, fully understand Weird Al at all.  After all, Mr. Yankovic is inextricably tied to the parody music videos that sustain his career, so that his concert centers around prerecorded movies was, in fact, absolutely perfect.

Show begins with music over the PA, then a camera (broadcast on big screen above stage) tracks Al walking along from backstage Mann, out into the mezzanine (passing bathrooms and drink lines), all the while capturing fans doing double takes and realizing HEY ITS REALLY AL WALKING BY US . . . Mr. Yankovic starts singing, picking up the tune of “Tacky” as he enters the arena via the audience and climbs onto stage……

Setlist to Weird Al Yankovic @ Mann Music Center, 31Aug2015

Tacky

Lame Claim to Fame –a direct meta-reference forecasting how people will tell how they saw him walk by them when he entered the show

Now that’s what I call Polka!  –fucking amazing moments of Al synching live playing against video projections

Perform This Way -a Lady Gaga mockery

Dare to be Stupid –a highlight of my life, a bucket list moment

Fat –with fat suit, naturally

First World Problems

Foil –people in the front row donning foil hats in tribute

Smells Like Nirvana –definitely gives me pause, wondering if mocking Cobain feels weird for Al

All of the following were quick segments of songs flowing together in Al medley style

Party In The CIA>All About Pentiums>Handy>Bedrock Anthem>Another One Rides the Bus > Superhero (Spiderman)> Gump >Inactive > Ebay> Canadian Idiot

All of the following were performed in non-traditional formats, including riff on Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’ for Eat It, cool jazz vibes for I Lost On Jeopardy, and big band style for Like a Surgeon. 

Eat It>I Lost On Jeopardy>I Love Rocky Road>Like a Surgeon

White and Nerdy

Word Crimes –possibly Tara’s highlight of the show, performed with the original video playing on overhead screen

Amish Paradise –knew it was coming for PA show
then, before the encore break, Al donned a James Brown-esque robe and stomped around, calling to the audience “You want more?  I can’t give you no more!”.  He shouted this several times—complete with band flourishes, building up to the inevitable James Brown parody number . . . or not.  “I TOLD you, I CAN’T give you no more! Goodnight!”  I was floored—the joke of a denied funk number—immaculate. 

Encore(s):

 We All Have Cell Phones (audience encouraged to raise lit cellphones and wave in unison)

The Saga Begins (the overlong retelling of Star Wars Episode 1 entire plot, in detail)

Yoda>vocal Jam>Yoda

An awesome tradition: The Mann Music Center gives away free baseball cards for big shows.  Check it--Al finally made it to the big leagues!

An awesome tradition: The Mann Music Center gives away free baseball cards for big shows. Check it–Al finally made it to the big leagues!

Really, the whole show was a highlight for Al newbies like us.  We were either laughing or dancing the entire show, or furiously scribbling down notes about the videos we’d want to research at home.  Having heard Dare To Be Stupid live, I can now die a happy, demented man, but if I’m honest about this favorite tune, the Mann center version felt a little flat, even routine, compared to the dynamism of some of the night’s more awesome numbers.  Foil was a really catchy, hilarious song that got Tara hyped up, and for my money, of the evening’s main numbers, the medley of Eat It>Jeopardy>Rocky Road>Like a Surgeon—all performed in definitively non-traditional styles of cool jazz and large band music—were the most impressive bits of showmanship of everything.  Clearly, Al, having done some of these crowd favorites for over three decades, is balancing fan service with his own needs as a performer.  And the result was fucking perfect, if I may say so.

During the encore break, I was trying to imagine what Al song would make the evening complete for me….luckily, my tastes must run similarly to Al’s thinking, because as the crowd chanted for more, the entire stage was drenched a laser-generated starscape, and a host of storm troopers—accompanied by Darth Vader—joined the band.  At first, I was mildly disappointed (though still pumped) for the Episode 1 narrative parody The Saga Begins, but halfway through, I realized Yoda was probably still waiting in the wings….and Al delivers.  Anthemic, inspiring, and hearkening back to deep memories of childhood….it was the perfect ending to a show I won’t ever forget.  Not to mention that the band broke into a full scat-style vocal jam before wrapping the song—it was basically everything I could have asked for.  Well, a more engaged audience would have been nice, but as far as Al goes, he gave me pretty much all I could have asked for.

NEW Tara Says Graphic

This was a much more family-oriented show than I expected.  I might have expected more fun, weird people in costume…maybe some dancing and singing along with signs…..however, to my eye, the crowd was pretty laid back and made up of normal/average looking people.  Everyone seemed to like watching the televised parts of the show, and there was notably less drinking than I expected (maybe my mind has been warped by the naughty phish kids).

I really loved the opening video of the show when Al entered the arena though the crowd and broadcast it on the big screen– I couldn’t tell if it was live or recorded until we saw him in the audience.  Speaking of the videos, I was surprised at how many cartoons and shows (per the many montages shown throughout the night) Weird Al has been featured in.

Weird Al’s band was great—I think I should have known that someone as good as Al would have great musicians with him.  I wonder if the performers we saw have performed with any other groups we would recognize?  Personally, my favorite songs of the night were Smells like Nirvana, Now That’s What I Call Polka!, Word Crimes, and White and Nerdy.

I love that Al spans such a huge chunk of pop culture.  I respect the lack of profanity in his music and enjoy the wittiness of the al.  I also really respect that he has stayed so current, riffing on pop culture songs I don’t even know!

Mr. Yankovic puts on a great show.  The whole experience was very witty—he dons a referee costume for Word Crimes—and the setlist has a good flow from topic to topic.  I did wonder if Fat comes off as slightly awkward in our modern day….like perhaps ‘fat shaming’ isn’t exactly PC anymore, and the fat suit is too far . . . ?  Have times changed all that much?  Anyway, I would go to see him again, as I was consistently entertained during the whole show.  I admit that I don’t understand how Al could get in and out of costumes so quickly without becoming a sticky sweaty mess.  I also really liked that Al is willing to, and feels safe walking amongst the crowd—such as during his Tacky entrance and when he climbed into the audience for the song where he sings like a loungey pimp to the women in the audience.  If I went to see him many times in a row, I suspect it might become boring, maybe partly because his show is simply replaying the versions we know from radio and videos– but that doesn’t mean seeing him every now and then wouldn’t be a ton of fun.  After all, when we saw Weezer they mostly just played their album versions and I had a good time…in fact it is probably the standard to “play the album”, so its probably forgivable after all.

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