If ever a journalist tiger were to show her journalistic stripes, ah friends, it would be now, here. I cried at the Weird Al show last Saturday. Multiple times. I wore a Hawaiian shirt and I cried like a baby. I cried like a baby would cry if an 8-year-old girl baby saw into the future and realized, with relief, that Weird Al is alive and well and great at his job.
The formal components of a live Weird Al set are spelled out in his Wikipedia entry, and it feels strange that at some point during this article I should have to explain precisely who Alfred "Weird Al" Yankovic is and what he's been doing for the past 30 years. I'm too close to the source, I've looked into that sun too long, and I don't want to walk the cuts-both-ways blade of fansplaining. One thing I'd like to establish is a preference for dropping the quotation marks that generally appear around the words "Weird Al," due to possible contextual confusion caused by references to album titles, which will also appear in quotations, and also because it looks weird, as if Weird Al is an imaginary friend and one's older sibling could be heard to remark, cuttingly, "Why don't you go cry to 'Weeeeird Aaal' about it, nyah?"
Make no mistake: Weird Al is truly exceptional. When he graduated high school in the Lynwood, California, in 1975, his valedictorian commencement speech predicted the melting of polar ice caps. He was 16 years old. He's never done drugs, eats a mostly vegan diet, and holds a degree in architecture. He's had the same band—percussionist John "Bermuda" Schwarz, bassist Steve Jay, and guitarist Jim West—since 1982, making them one of the longest-running outfits in rock history. One of the truly weird things about him is how un-weird he is: Who else charts on the Billboard Top 100 with a song about grammar that, in condemning leet and textspeak, ("'be,' 'see,' 'are,' 'you'/ Are words, not letters/ Get it together/ Use your spellchecker"), is both curmudgeonly and informative?
My experience of Weird Al—staring into the maelstrom of references that is Jack Davis' cover for his debut LP "Weird Al Yankovic," bringing the book "The Authorized Al" to school every day, memorizing lines from the movie "UHF"—is both personal and universal, a shared private experience specific to my life and exactly parallel to the lives of millions of others. Weird Al is the best kind of pop star because the bedrock of his brand is not about trying to be sexy or tough or cool, it's about being the best version of yourself you can be. And not just being all you can be in some militaristic bum-out trip, oh no. This is a higher self, not a bumpersticker-y self, a self-actualized self alloyed of a refusal to take said self too seriously while simultaneously behaving with consideration and love for other people. In this way, Weird Al is the physical embodiment of the apex of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I'm going to go one step further and say that Alfred Matthew Yankovic is an advanced human subtly lodging messages of compassion, lifelong learning skills, and hard-core silliness in the mass mind, because it is true and saying so will help me feel better for openly weeping to a parody of Pharrell's 'Happy.'
Weird Al started the show promptly at 8 p.m. strut-singing the aforementioned cover, titled 'Tacky,' into a wireless mic all the way from the Pier Six parking lot port-a-johns to the Pier Six Pavilion stage. Over the course of the next two hours, he ripped through 30 years' worth of material with a limber and righteous verve. I'd like to say that he acted like a man half his age, mugging and flailing, jumping up and down in facial prosthetics and a fat suit loaded with chains, and pulling off high kicks to rival Diamond Dave himself, but I think that gives too much credit to 27.5 year olds. It takes a special kind of person to say, "I would like to spend the better part of my mid-50s climbing in and out of rubber coveralls, fake beards, and octopus costumes, because it is the thing in life at which I most excel."
Maybe it was being so close to the stage that my friend and I were nearly Blue-Man-Grouped by a cup of water he hurled at the crowd (baptism!), or the fact that earlier that day another friend "had to buy something [she] didn't even need just/ so [she] could qualify for free shipping," or disorientation caused by the supercut of highlights from Weird Al's career on Jumbotron display between songs. Maybe it was the strange tingling sensation caused by seeing polka versions of pop hits occur in perfect time with their original videos on same 'tron, Miley Cyrus singing with Weird Al's voice and the resultant absurdity of furious accordion accompaniment to naked Cyrus riding that wrecking ball and licking that sledgehammer. Maybe it was all of it, and the fact that I wept pretty much immediately and was by all accounts extremely vulnerable. Whatever it was, by the time pirate-shirted Al and band got around to covering 'Eat It' in the style of Eric Clapton's 'Layla,' as Clapton played it on "MTV Unplugged" (in a genius move that could be termed a Quadruple Parody, poking fun at Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Unplugged-type musical self-importance, and thus himself), I was, in the most spiritual sense of the word, agape. When Weird Al leapt into the aisles to sex-ham through his original slow jam, 'Wanna B Ur Lovr,' the entire crowd palpably vibrated with joy.
I think the only person totally unaffected by the Weird Al-chemy was a boy of probably around 10, in the row ahead of my friend and I, who was heard to remark partway through the "Polka Party!" medley, "Who's Weird Al?" and then spent the rest of the time either acting visibly bored or shooting brief, annoyed side-eye at my own unrepentant enthusiasms. In my journalistic opinion, this boy has no soul and will live an unhappy life. Just kidding! What a terrible thing to say about a child. Seriously, though (ha): Who doesn't have fun at a concert that is essentially a carnival of jokes peppered with more costume changes than Fashion Week, Canadian-flag-themed confetti shot from cannons, slapstick, bubbles from a bubble machine, and songs about "Star Wars"?
At one point, 'Fat'-fat-suited Al stage-punched a dude in a Santa costume who suddenly appears, causing the false Kringle to spew white gumballs or Tic Tacs or whatnot all over the place before scurrying back into the wings. Why? Who cares! I took it to mean that Santa is not real, but Weird Al is, and he's the one giving gifts tonight. Perhaps The Bored Child is early in his lessons on ironic distance or honing his nascent cynicism and general 'tude. That's OK, I guess. To be fair, this is the Mandatory World Tour, and like anything mandatory, one should be allowed to reject it, even, and especially, if it is under the rubric of "fun." Additionally, his lack of interest was amply countered by the screaming, shrieking excitement of a girl (about 6 years old, I'd hazard) and a boy (looked 4, unrelated to girl) in the row behind me who knew every single word to 'The Saga Begins' and sang standing on their parent or guardian's laps.
By the time the encore arrived after a very convincing fake-out on the part of ol' Al there, I felt as if I'd been watching a movie of my life. And, in a way (I nod knowingly at a three-quarter angle and squint into the distance here), hadn't I? I'd just sat through the involuntary soundtrack to my existence in meta-parodies of pop music milestones, all of it orchestrated by a dancing guru of double-meaning, triple entendres, and (I contend this is a real thing) Quadruple Parody, parodies so stupid and brilliant they fold in on themselves, improving or supplanting the original version. And while I don't know all the lyrics to 'The Saga Begins' because my Weird Era of Origin is 'Another One Rides the Bus' and possibly I'm stuck there emotionally, no problem, it's fine, because the four dudes hugging each other over there and reaching toward the stage know all the words, and so do the 4-year-old boy and the 6-year-old girl. But the best part, the absolutely most adorable and gut-wrenching moment in two solid hours of pitch-perfect singing, crisp harmonies, unflubbed raps, and tightly choreographed Spike Jones-worthy stage maneuvers like tea-sipping, robe-putting-on, and inhaler-sucking? The best part was when the band left the stage and, on his way out with the rest of them, Weird Al tripped. After completing a bombastic and crowd-frothing Star Wars encore replete with 501st Legion Imperial Stormtroopers and druidic Kurzweil synthesizer solos, Weird Al tripped because he was looking at us and not at the drum riser. Every aspect of the show had been created and rehearsed someplace else, and in that little moment he was our own loving klutz. Oh no! Did he injure himself? Not that we can tell from here! He kept moving! He stumbled and then laughed and we laughed and he disappeared, like some fantastic unexpected fake Santa.
'Lame Claim to Fame'
"Polka Party!" medley
'Perform This Way'
'Dare To Be Stupid'
'First World Problems'
'Smells Like Nirvana'
'Party in the CIA'
'Another One Rides The Bus' - 'Ode to a Superhero' - 'Gump' (medley)
'Wanna B Ur Lovr'
'I Lost on Jeopardy'
'Like a Surgeon'
'White and Nerdy'
'The Saga Begins'