Weird Al Yankovic

"Weird Al" Yankovic has been doing his parodies for over 35 years now and in doing so has outlasted many of the acts he has sent up. Part of his longevity can be attributed to his attention to detail, both musically and visually. After all, any wag can change ‘Beat It’ to ‘Eat It,’ but the value was enhanced by the way Al and his band carefully reproduced the sound of the original songs and often also the humorous music videos.

This is where it’s unfair to dismiss Weird Al as merely a funny bugger who made it big, because it takes serious musical and vocal skill to reproduce styles that range from folk to pop to grunge to hip hop just on the same album, let alone the same show.

I was wondering whether to expect a concert that was funny or a comedy show that was musical. Of course it was both, but tended to err on the side of comedy. But how do you make people laugh when they have mostly heard the jokes (that is, the songs) already? Of all the comedy greats, only Monty Python have been able to do that. Well, make that Monty Python and Weird Al.

The show opened with ‘Tacky’ (Pharell Williams’ ‘Happy’) with Al appearing via video from backstage, walking towards camera as he does in the video of the song. If you weren’t familiar with the bowels of the Palais, it was hard to tell whether he was appearing live by remote, or if this was a recorded intro, even though the band were already on stage. However, when the camera followed him outside and showed the familiar side of the theatre, we knew it was real and soon Al entered from a side door, making his way through to audience to the stage.

‘Lame Claim To Fame’ followed, after which Al hoisted his accordion triumphantly on one hand and called out “Are you ready to polka?” Now, I’ve seen a few gigs in my time but I have never heard such rock star screaming from a crowd than at that point. For those who weren’t able to pick up all the references in ‘Now That’s What I Call Polka!’ videos of the originals were played in the background, which synchronised amazingly well with the live performance.

Video played a major part of the show, which makes sense as it’s been a major part of Weird Al’s success. A montage of references to Al in popular media (and there have been many) was played after the polka as the band slipped off stage for the first of many costume changes. He returned dressed as a purple octopus for ‘Perform This Way’ (Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’).

Another video montage followed before the Devo inspired ‘Dare To Be Stupid.’ It wasn’t only Al in costume – all the band were in Devo-esque outfits, complete with Energy Domes.

The videos between songs helped keep the energy of the show going during costume changes, although they were mostly archival. The introduction for the video of ‘Fat’ (Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’) was played and sure enough, when the music began, Al was there in the complete fat suit.

It was interesting that Al had a bet each way during ‘Foil’ (‘Royals’ by Lorde). In the first chorus, he pronounced ‘aluminium’ correctly, but reverted to the American pronunciation in the second verse. He came out with a left-handed guitar for ‘Smells Like Nirvana,’ and Steve Jay had his bass slung down around his knees for added authenticity.

The gargle solo was performed live.

As mentioned earlier, the energy of the comedy was clearly the priority as ‘Party In The CIA’ (‘Party In The USA’ by Miley Cyrus) carried on into a medley that also included ‘Handy’ (Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’), ‘Bedrock Anthem’ (Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Give It Away’), ‘Another One Rides The Bus’ (Queen's ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ and ‘Ode To A Superhero’ (Billy Joel's ‘Piano Man’) among others. The harmonica roadie on the latter was a nice touch. It again highlighted the versatility of Steve Jay (Bass), Jim West (Guitar), Rubén Valtierra, (Keyboards) and Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz (Drums) as they effortlessly switched styles even in mid-song.

There was very little banter, as the energetic Al preferred to interact with the crowd musically. He roamed the audience during the sexy funk pastiche of ‘Wanna B Ur Lovr,’ singling out people to sing it to, while delivering a relentless string of bizarre pick-up lines.

It’s fair to say that Weird Al’s humour has grown a little more sophisticated as his audience has grown. However, he still managed to bring out his breakthrough hits ‘Eat It’ and ‘Like a Surgeon’ in a way that made them fresh by sending up the overly-earnest acoustic set.

When ‘Word Crimes’ was first released online, I was disappointed that it used the word “spastic” as a put-down. It turns out Al was not aware of the negative connotations of the word and to his credit, the verse has been dropped from the live version. It’s all the better for it because the song is so brilliant it almost justifies the existence of the awful ‘Blurred Lines' made famous by Robin Thicke.

The main set closed with ‘Amish Paradise’ (Coolio’s ‘Gansta’s Paradise’). By this time Al and the band had the crowd in the palms of their hands – almost literally as Rubén Valtierra “conducted” the applause prior to the encore. The show concluded with a timely Star Wars motif (the man knows his audience), punctuated by some epic acapella scatting from Al and the band.

One very impressive thing about Weird Al’s humour is that there’s never any hint of mean-spiritedness in it. He never takes the obvious route or makes cheap shots. And how exactly do you satirise Miley Cyrus or Robin Thicke in a way that they haven’t already done themselves? This was a family-friendly show, and not in a way that is a euphemism for cute and safe. The fun may be mandatory but in truth, it’s unavoidable.

The Mandatory World Tour arrives in Christchurch tonight (January 6th), Adelaide on January 8th, and the Southbound Festival in Busselton, WA on January 10th.

Over 100 colourful fun photographs of Weird Al Yankovic, is available here:
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