Weird Al Yankovic
Mizner Park Amphitheater, Boca Raton
Saturday, July 24, 2010
If the thick South Florida heat was getting to Weird Al Yankovic Saturday night, he sure wasn't showing it -- even while donning a suit that turned him into a Hell's Angels version of Humpty Dumpty for his performance of "Fat." It takes a pretty enormous belt to fit 30 years of cultural relevance under it anyhow. Harder still, summing up in a couple of hours a robust back catalog of parodies, polka medleys, and side-splitting originals that have retained their luster far longer than many of the original artists who fueled Weird Al's fire. (Sup, Coolio?)
But if the 50-year-old grows tired of taking two-hour hilarity sessions on
the road, whatever's left of network television must snap him up.
Imagine Yankovic in the middle of a judges panel with his mane of curly
hair and wearing a Hawaiian shirt parodying a Simon Cowell figure in
what would be a blend of American Idol and Last Comic Standing. Who better to coach to the mocktacular movement that has long been a viral fixture on YouTube (College Humor's takedown of Ke$ha, Eric Wareheim's bizarre Major Lazer videos, the Lonely Island's wink at the Ying Yang Twins, among umpteen others)? For now, the best learning experience is to sit and marvel at Weird Al's two-hour blitzkrieg of LOL inducers at Mizner Park
Lesson one: Being endearingly funny is more than just setting a
clever meme pun to the tune of a popular song.
In the span of three minutes, open-mic nights and rock's egotist posturers got playfully mocked in the sweetly delivered "You Don't Love Me Anymore," a Weird Al original closely akin to James Taylor (and now John Mayer) that deals with a relationship gone pathologically wrong ("You poison my coffee just a little each day"). "Are you people ready to rock?" he asked several times before he began, each time louder
and more exaggerated. After the crowd reached a satisfying pitch of
affirmation, he responded, "I was afraid of that." An acoustic guitar draped around Yankovic's neck provided as much humor as the song as he made elaborate motions to his backing band in preparations to play it -- only to sling it back to his side without a note. At the end, his turmoil apparently got the best of him, and he smashed the guitar to splinters.
Lesson two: Mainstream popular culture is not the enemy (even when it is).
Stephen Malkmus made fun of Smashing Pumpkins and the Stone Temple Pilots in a couple of snickering stanzas in Pavement's "Range Life," but ultimately both acts at the butt of the joke remain (perhaps undeservedly) bigger in rock's pantheon because it was a niche musical vehicle carrying the message. Meanwhile, Weird Al's roast of Nirvana's unintelligible lyrics via "Smells Like Nirvana," performed to the tune of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with nearly identical accompaniment, reached far more ears and actually warranted comment from Kurt Cobain (he was amused). Live, Yankovic (and cheerleaders) re-creates the song's video decked in a striped sweater, a blond wig, and performing a gargling solo in the middle. Earlier in the set, a "Polka Medley" of recent top 40 hits by Katy Perry,
Lady Gaga, and the like shows that accordion can knock any overplayed song down a few pegs. Even the "Al TV" shorts -- which played on the screens above the stage during several costume changes -- featuring interviews with Eminem, Madonna, and Celine Dion and taking their words wildly out of context shows a reverence and deep understanding of the pop he's lampooning.
Lesson three: Know thy audience.
Dorks like Weird Al, and said dorks are often completists. Not only does this explain 12 million records sold but it means that audience members buy a T-shirt every time they see Weird Al perform and aren't ashamed to wear it right then and there. Throughout the evening, "Al TV" shorts also featured copious moments from TV programs featuring a mention of, or appearance by, Yankovic -- the type of thing that exists on VHS tapes in the obsessed fan's personal library. Riding a Gob Bluth-approved Segway onstage for "White and Nerdy," stripping down to a tutu by the end of "You're Pitiful" (parody of James Blunt's wretched "You're Beautiful"), singing about home-theater envy long before flat screens even existed ("Frank's 2000 Inch TV"), and the bottomless pits of idiosyncratic behavior lurking on eBay and Craigslist -- it all serves a fan base self-aware enough to know they're weird too, and so they waved their smart phones in the air like they just didn't care. Why it took so long for Yankovic to pair the tune of Don McLean's "American Pie" with a Star Wars plot perhaps will never be known. But you can bet that a night that concluded with Weird Al dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi and surrounded by Imperial Stormtroopers (for "Yoda" with an extended a cappella break, as well) fed the frenzy.
Better than: Spinal Tap "Unwigged" by a thin margin but much more family-friendly.
Personal bias: In my youth, I learned to love the music of the Rolling Stones via "The Hot Rocks Polka."
Random detail: "Let Me Be Your Hog" was performed with all of the punk fury (and snorting) of the original recording.
"Frank's 2000 Inch TV"
"You Don't Love Me Anymore"
"Smells Like Nirvana"
"Dare to Be Stupid"
"CNR (Charles Nelson Reilly)"
"Let Me Be Your Hog"
"Wanna B Ur Lovr"
"Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies"
"Whatever You Like"
"I'm in Love With the Skipper"
"Confessions Part III"
"Another One Rides the Bus"
"Ode to a Superhero"
"Trapped in the Drive-Thru"
"White and Nerdy"
"We All Have Cell Phones, So C'mon Let's Get Real"
"The Saga Begins"