Weird Al Yankovic
Warner Theater, Washington, DC
October 19, 2011
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been a fan of Weird Al Yankovic since I was aware that there was such a person; at this point, then, for over 20 years. I’m slightly embarrassed (though apparently not so much so that I won’t write it in public) that there are many songs I think of as Weird Al songs first, rather than the parodied songs themselves. Which is a roundabout way of saying that it’s somewhat surprising that last week was the first time I saw the man in person.
The short version: two of the most fun hours I’ve had in years.
The concert featured mostly Weird Al’s new songs, as is to be expected of somebody who’s been performing for over 30 years. But here’s the thing: Weird Al’s new stuff is as good as (if not better than) anything he’s done in his career. Take, from the new album, “Party in the CIA”:
“Like a Surgeon” this ain’t. (Although, to be fair, Weird Al has historically played dark at times, as evidenced by, inter alia, “Christmas at Ground Zero,” the only nuclear war Christmas song I know of.) Still, this is actual political satire coming from a man who most people think of as parodying Michael Jackson songs in a fat suit. That’s a real accomplishment in my book. Now, if he doesn’t quite reach the heights of Tom Lehrer’s “Send the Marines”:
this doesn’t speak poorly of Weird Al so much as it reminds us: a) Tom Lehrer is one of the great American satirists, and b) that I’m even thinking of this discussion is something I hadn’t expected before I heard the album.
Seeing him live, two things become obvious: first, Weird Al clearly loves his job, and it comes through in every moment of the concert. Second, he and his band are really fantastic musicians. This shouldn’t be a surprise; after all, you can’t spend three decades doing genre-hopping parody without knowing your way around the music, but it really shines live.
Yankovic samples widely from his career during the concert, going back as far as the late 80s (the chaotic “You Make Me”), the early ’90s (a still spot-on “Smells Like Nirvana”), the mid ’90s (“Amish Paradise”), and up through what is somewhat astonishingly his biggest hit (“White and Nerdy”). Since all of these are done in costume, in between set pieces the audience gets clips from his AlTV specials, the underrated UHF, and assorted pop culture clips referencing, denigrating, and celebrating Weird Al. It’s an endearing and engrossing tour through the pop culture of my lifetime, by a man who (if he didn’t change it, per se) at least shaped the way a lot of us nerds thought about it and interacted with it.
The audience ranged in age from 16 to 76, the attire everything from costumes to concert t-shirts to business casual to dressed-up (hardly surprising on a Wednesday night in downtown DC), and everybody absolutely got their money’s worth. As the audience sang along to the encore, a medley of his two Star Wars parodies (“The Saga Begins”/”American Pie” and “Yoda”/”Lola”), I found myself thinking: From purely goofy to loving homage to actual political satire, Weird Al has been giving his fans what they ask for from him for decades; what more can a fan ask?