The essence of comedy is surprise, except when it isn’t. Jokes you’ve heard before aren’t funny, except when they are.
I don’t know why some things work this way and some don’t. Years ago – for the first (and, so far, only) time as an adult – I tried watching Spaceballs. I loved that movie as a kid. As an adult, I was so let down by how badly it failed to live up to my memories that I began to suspect that there was some form of treachery involved, that someone had edited the movie and replaced all the jokes with not-quite-jokes. But I can watch episodes of Arrested Development or the good years of The Simpsons, shows that I’ve seen so many times I almost know them by heart, and not only do I laugh at the jokes, but I laugh before they’re said because I know they’re coming.
This is not to suggest that Arrested Development and Spaceballs are on par. But you know what I mean, right?
Maybe Spaceballs is on par with “Weird Al” Yankovic? There might be something to that.
Anyway. I bring this up because Weird Al’s show at the casino was more or less exactly the same format as the show I saw in Saskatoon five years ago. And really, that show wasn’t much different from when I saw him in 1996. So, y’know, if you’ve never been to a Weird Al show and you think that’s something you might like to do someday, maybe you should just quit reading right here. I’ll even give you a spoiler-free review: you already know exactly how you feel about Weird Al and that is how you will feel about seeing him in concert.
Like the 2007 show, I bought tickets right when they went on sale, and we wound up at the front. It’s hard not to be extra excited for a show when you’re right there, front and centre. I saw a few friends in the crowd – some people that I knew would be there, and some I did not – and they were all sad that they didn’t have our seats. They all have better-paying jobs than I do, but I got to sit in the very front row for Weird Al. This says something about where my life’s priorities lie. Probably nothing good.
We checked out the stuff table before the show. Apart from the usual CDs and t-shirts, they had Weird Al trading cards (which I did not buy) (also, they were sold as complete sets, so why would you trade them?) and did not have the new book about Al by the AV Club’s Nathan Rabin (which I would have bought). No souvenirs for me.
The fans looked much the same as last time (see above, re: White & Nerdy), though I don’t recall the guy with the big 007 tattoo on his neck at the 2007 show. Part of me wanted to get into a really excited discussion with him about Skyfall, and the smarter part of me made me not do that. I did think that a casino was an odd choice for a venue, since you’d have to think that a significant portion of Weird Al’s fanbase is made up of 12-year-old boys. But the concert hall looked like it was nearly sold out, so I guess there are enough folks in town who are 12-year-old boys at heart.
The format of the show was the same as always. He opened by playing the newest polka medley. There were lots of costume changes; while these were taking place, the big screens would be showing videos of Al “interviewing” celebrities, or montages of Al’s guest appearances on different TV shows and movies. I think most of the interviews were new, and most of the clips were shown at the last concert. Somewhere in the middle of the show, there was a long medley of parodies and originals, so if he didn’t play your favourite song, there’s at least a chance you’d get to hear a chunk of it. (I did not get Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, but I want the whole thing or nothing.) After the medley, you mostly get Al’s greatest hits. And the show ended with Yoda, since he always closes with the Yoda chant, which is either now stuck in your head or best left to your imagination.
Like last time, streamers were fired into the crowd when the bomb went off at the end of Canadian Idiot. Like last time, the Saskatchewan crowd reacted big to the reference to Saskatchewan. And like last time, I got hit in the face with Weird Al spit when he waved his water bottle in our direction.
Most of Al’s costumes have stayed the same too. There’s still a fat suit and Amish attire. There’s still a Segway on stage for White & Nerdy, and the band still dresses like Nirvana for the Smells Like Teen Spirit parody.
We did get at least a snippet of almost every song off the newest album, Alpocalypse, so there was some new content. I think it’s one of Al’s best records, so I was pretty pleased by this. I was especially glad that we got Skipper Dan – possibly Al’s most depressing song – and CNR (with drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz dressed up like Meg White). There was no sign of Stop Fowarding That Crap To Me, which is a shame. I don’t know if there’s much of an audience for a style parody of Jim Steinman these days, but I loved the idea so much it’s like he wrote it just for me.
The highlight of the show – and one of the highlights of my life – was Al’s Prince-inspired song, Wanna B Ur Lovr. Like last time, Al grabbed a wireless mic and went out into the crowd, serenading all the ladies. He went all around the place, making sexyface at my friend Mary, and then headed back our way. I could tell that Mika sensed danger. But “Weird Al” Yankovic is a gentleman, and merely sang to my lovely wife “I wanna be your love torpedo, are you pickin’ up the subtle innuendo here?” And I’ll tell you, if there’s anyone in the world who I’d let hit on my wife without incident, it’d be my childhood hero. It helps that Al just seems so nice, you know? When I was a little kid, I liked Ray Stevens as much as I liked Weird Al, but these days Stevens comes across as a racist, bitter, entitled Tea Party dickhead. If he so much as looks at my wife I’m taking his G D head off.
So yes. A delightful time was had by all, even if it was more smiles of recognition than full-on belly laughs. Talking to friends after the show, it was evident that the people who hadn’t seen Al in concert before enjoyed the show that much more than we did. That’s how it goes.
And one last “like last time:” like last time, some of us waited around after the show to see if Al would come out, and he did not. Low-level celebrity stalking was never something I was that big on, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to possibly meet Weird Al. Of course, if I ever did get to, I don’t think I could say anything that wasn’t super creepy or cheesy, assuming I could say anything at all. There’s probably a lesson I could take from that, and one I will surely intentionally forget next time.
Dammit, every time I play the Presidents Of The United States Of America’s self-titled first album, and it comes to Lump, all I can hear is Weird Al’s version of it, Gump.
Worse, I think I might like Al’s version better. Hooboy. Sorry, PotUSA.
James sent me over to exclaim.ca, where you can stream the new Weird Al record in its entirety. You should go there too. It’s a lot of fun.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Weird Al? Is he even still going? Isn’t it all just the same thing, over and over? Well, yes. And no. Because contrary to what you may think when dismissing him, there’s a lot of work and thought put into these parodies (and originals), and the band playing for him is top notch. Easy to take for granted, harder to appreciate, if you have the attention span of a gnat. But not to worry, Al, I had myself a good ol’ geek-fest here tonight, and loved a lot of it. Several of the songs are focussed on fame (or the desire for it), and I suppose in our idiotic celebrity-worshipping culture, that makes sense. But it’s also sad commentary.
Until the other day, I’d managed to avoid hearing the new Lady Gaga song, Born This Way. And, when I caught a bit of it in passing, I thought “Hey, Madonna’s got a new song.” To hear Al’s spoof so soon after the original is rather a nice way to do it. It’s a song about how weird she is, and how she’s famous because of it. Easy target, Al! Next, he spoofs the White Stripes about Charles Nelson Reilly’s mad skillz (any one of which would have made him even more famous), and Taylor Swift about TMZ (and fame). Skipper Dan is an excellent original about a guy who believes he should have been famous but isn’t.
The highlight of any Al disc is the polka medley, wherein he takes a whole bunch of contemporary artists and, well, polkas them. This one, called Polka Face (again with the Gaga) is worthy, a truly enjoyable bashing… er, I mean, it’s totally respectful, of course. Next up it’s more spoofs, with the Doors about Craigslist, which at first I thought was a spoof of Smashmouth, so help me. And hey, do you remember his one about eBay? Not really stretching here, Al. Anyway, then it’s Miley Cyrus about being in the C.I.A., Queen about a bad ringtone, B.O.B. about tattoos, and Hanson about possibly misunderstanding what love is.
Closing out the disc are the two stand-out tracks. First is a T.I. spoof about loving someone during these tough financial times. It’s a truly funny song, except when you actually start to think about it. Then, it’s terrifying. And the last track is a Meat Loaf-style plea to stop forwarding him so much crap to his inbox. It’s a very grand track, and some of the rhymes are classic.
So, if you’re a fan, you’ve already heard this. If you’re not, this is as good a place as any to start, given that you’re likely to know more of the songs. If you used to be a fan, it’s time to get your Al on again. Fun. Recommended.
PS Someone should make a chronological mix of all the polka mixes he’s done, to this point. Sure, it’d be a lot of polka, but it could also be a fascinating survey of pop culture over the last couple of decades.
I love Weird Al.
I tried not to, or at least I tried to stop. Little kids can love Weird Al and that’s acceptable… well, somewhat. It’s to be expected, at any rate. But you’re supposed to grow out of it, and like I said, I tried. It was a lie, though. I easily abandoned Mad Magazine, but Weird Al? Couldn’t do it.
I saw him in concert once before. This was on June 12, 1996 (thank YOU, tin box full of old tickets), which would have been right before I started reviewing concerts. The big list of reviews has kind of become the “official” list of artists that I’ve seen, and I like Weird Al enough that I’m glad that he’ll finally get his place on that list.
I also like that certain people are left OFF that list. You know who I mean.
Anyway. Weird Al. Seen him before. Excited to see him again.
For my third straight concert, I managed to nab tickets in the second row. This was more exciting than getting second-row for Willie Nelson, but not quite up there with second-row for the White Stripes. Al has been here before and he’ll probably come back. But exciting just the same. We were sitting two rows directly ahead of Laura, Brad, and Christine. Laura advised us to watch out for “Weird Al spit.” We laughed it off. Little did we know…
Odd that Weird Al would be playing SaskPlace – the local hockey arena – while the White Stripes would opt for the much smaller Centennial Auditorium. I’m not sure how many tickets Al sold, but it wasn’t sold out. Didn’t look close, really. The arena was cut in half for concert bowl seating, and the upper level of seats was tarped off. I figure the remaining seats would hold somewhere around 4,000 people at the most, so maybe there were 3,000 there? No idea. The crowd was an interesting mix. There were lots of young boys, of course. The attendees ranged in age from 5 until about 30 or so. From there, you had a good ten or fifteen year jump to the dads who brought the kids. Appropriately, the crowd was both very white and very nerdy.
When I saw Al years ago, a comedian opened the show with a family-friendly stand-up act. There would be no opener tonight. I was a bit surprised, but in time I came to see that this was a wise idea. The show ran about two and a half hours as it was.
An instrumental tune played (“Fun Zone” – I know too much about nothing), followed by some channel flipping on the big screens. Various bits of wacky footage gave way to a montage of TV hosts – Carson, Leno, Conan, Letterman, Arsenio, and many more – announcing the arrival of “Weird Al” Yankovic. Or “Mr. Al Yankovic,” if you’re Jon Stewart. What a classy guy.
Al and his band took the stage and opened with his newest polka medley, synched up to clips of the original videos from the songs he was covering. Next up was Canadian Idiot, a parody of Green Day’s American Idiot. I was looking forward to this one. “Eat their weight in Kraft macaroni and dream of driving a zamboni all over Saskatchewan,” as performed IN Saskatchewan for the first time ever… at least by Al. I knew it would get a big cheer. It did. And I kind of expected something would happen when the bomb explodes at the end of the song – this was when we got shot at with streamers out of the cannons on stage. The streamers missed us – went right over our heads.
The next couple songs included It’s All About The Pentiums, as well as some originals – I’ll Sue Ya, Wanna B Ur Luvr and Close But No Cigar. These originals don’t rank among my favourites, but they were more fun in concert. Especially Luvr, which saw Al wander through the crowd and sing to all the girls. “You’re magically delicious, like a bowl of Lucky Charms / you’d look like Venus de Milo if I just cut off your arms.”
Between songs, we were treated to clips of “interviews” that Al performed with various celebrities. Basically, he spliced himself into existing interview footage. It’s the easiest way to ask Kevin Federline “So what’s it like to have a closet full of wifebeaters… but no wife?” The videos were to entertain us during the many costume changes. He wore the fat suit for Fat (of course), a Puff Daddy suit for Pentiums, Star Wars garb for The Saga Begins and Yoda, and six shirts and a tutu for You’re Pitiful. Before White and Nerdy, he – indeed – rolled in on a Segway. Weird Al has some impressive Segway skills.
So that we didn’t get costume changes between EVERY song, there was a long medley in the middle of the show. This included snippets from old songs and new ones, originals and parodies. I was delighted that Headline News, his Crash Test Dummies parody, is not only still in the rotation, but there was even a new verse:
Once, there was this girl who
Got herself a DUI and got sent off to prison
And when she finally came back
She spoke with Larry King on his talk show
He couldn’t quite explain why
We should give a crap about her
Some poking around on YouTube has revealed that this wasn’t the only new verse of the tour:
Once, there was this girl who
Rode around in limousines and didn’t wear her undies
And when she finally cracked up
She shaved all of the hair of of her head
She couldn’t quite explain it
It had always just been there
There were a few new songs… sort of. A snippet of a parody of a T Pain song made its way into the medley. I don’t know the original, but the new song was about being in love with the Skipper, as sung by Gilligan. Very disturbing – and undoctored – footage of Gilligan’s Island aired behind him as he sang. And the first song after the encore was “We’ve All Got Cellphones, So Come On, Let’s Get Real.” As those were the only lyrics, I assume that is also the title. It was a continuation of a joke from one of the celebrity interviews – this time with Michael Stipe. You know how people used to hold up lighters at concerts and now they hold up cellphones? This song was MADE for that. I was sad I had left my phone in the car.
The last song was Albuquerque, which surprised me. I read an interview with Al where he said he couldn’t perform the song in concert without wrecking his voice – he performed it one time (IN Albuquerque, of course), and was hoarse for three days. So it was pretty cool to hear this. And while we did miss the streamers earlier on, we got covered in confetti when the cannons fired at the end of the show. Earlier, during White and Nerdy, we were showered in fake hundred dollar bills with Al’s face on them. And during Smells Like Nirvana, after Al gargled into the mic, he tossed his cup of water out over the crowd. We got hit GOOD. Laura even tried to warn us, but it was to no avail. Luckily, there was no actual Weird Al spit in there. Unless he backwashes. And I’m going to just assume that he doesn’t.
Fun show. Long show, but it never felt long. When it was over, we were still up for some Al-stalking. I don’t usually stick around to try and get autographs anymore, but I’d gladly make an exception for a guy I’ve liked for… jeez, nearly 25 years? Wow. I was afraid I’d be all star-struck and tongue-tied, but it didn’t matter as he snuck out a different door. Oh well. There’s always next time.