Back in 1987, when I was just 12, my two most valuable possessions were a CD of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and a cassette tape of Weird Al Yankovic’s “Dare to Be Stupid,” and I honestly can’t say which I listened to more.
I have to admit I knew every word to Weird Al’s “Yoda” before I ever heard of the Kinks, and I still find myself singing “Another One Rides the Bus” every time I hear stomp-stomp clap, stomp-stomp clap. But unlike my Dad’s old hi-fi Denon stereo with the five-foot-tall speaker boxes, Weird Al is still working and arguably better today than he ever was.
I guess I didn’t know what to expect walking in to the Paramount Theatre last Thursday night. A solo accordion polka-fest? Would Al bring a band? Can he actually pull off the rapping he did in “White & Nerdy” live? How old is he today anyway? Yes, yes, yes and 50.
I walked in five minutes late, just missing a crowd- pleasing polka medley of current radio hits, but just in time to catch two of Al’s non-parody originals; “Frank’s 2000″ TV” and “You Don’t Love Me Anymore.” Just before “You Don’t Love Me…” a stagehand walked out and handed Al an acoustic guitar which he slung over his shoulder.
Each time as he sang into the chorus, he would pull the guitar in front of him to play, not actually play it, then sling it back over his shoulder. Just after the slow love ballad ended, Al got up quietly, walked to center stage, and smashed the crap out of that never-played guitar and then ran off stage. And that answered my question of what to expect.
In his absence, we were treated to video clips of AL TV, entertaining interviews that Al built by splicing himself in, and shorts of pop culture references to Weird Al himself. You’d be surprised how many TV shows have mentioned him including everything from “Family Guy” and “The Office,” to “The Simpsons” and “The Brak Show.”
The video clips, it turns out, were designed to buy Al and his band time to change costumes between songs, and the costumes, I think, tell you as much about the show as the set list, so I made a list: black cape and beret, safari tour guide khaki shorts and hat, Kurt Cobain stripey shirt with long blonde wig, flamboyant gold sequin shirt, the infamous Amazon.com wolf shirt, a T-shirt with block letters reading “Atlantic Records Still Sucks,” a full-on yellow Devo jumpsuit, black leather jacket and hat, Gilligan from “Gilligan’s Island” red polo and fisherman’s hat, flowery paisley jacket and pants, the infamous Michael Jackson jacket, the more infamous Michael Jackson themed fat suit, and my personal favorite: a swanky red and black zebra stripe suit which he wore during his original over-the-top sultry funk number “I Want to be Your Lover.”
He took himself and that suit down into the audience and gyrated all over unsuspecting female audience members who were all too happy to be honored by Mr. Weird himself.
And to match the costume changes, he and his band played well over 20 songs. We got a broad swath of his decades of lampoons, from well-known spoofs like “Smells Like Nirvana,” “Amish Paradise,” and a parody of James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” (“You’re Pitiful”) to “Canadian Idiot” and his mock Backstreet Boys song “Ebay.”
Satisfying my hopes, he played almost the entirety of his Doors- themed original “Craigslist” complete with the breakdown, “Do you want my styrofoam peanuts? Well you can have my styrofoam peanuts. They’re on Craaaaaigs Liiiiiist!” Some lesser known tracks were pleasant surprises like “Gump,” a parody of The Presidents of the United States of America’s song “Lump”, and a hilarious song I hadn’t heard before telling the story of Spiderman to the music of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”
Not only was he able to pull off the timing in his remake of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’ Dirty” (“White & Nerdy”), but he did the first half of the song riding a Segway. “Eat It” was great. “Fat” was even better as Al jumped around stage in a full on fat suit complete with chubby wrinkled neck rolls.
Weird Al’s fans range from too-young-to-drive up through retirees, and as I looked around the auditorium, everyone was smiling for the whole two hours. And as if they hadn’t played enough, the encore turned out to be the highlight of the show, as Darth Vader and eight Storm Troopers marched out onto the stage and worked their way from standing ominously still, up to a slight shimmy, into a priceless full on choreographed contagion while Al played his Star Wars themed song “The Saga Begins” (set to the music of Don Mclean’s “American Pie.”)
Followed with “Yoda,” I don’t think there was a person in the audience who didn’t get the song they were hoping for. And after it was all said and done, Weird Al for the first time finally broke character, and began to smile as he did his last shuffle off stage.
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Jamie White is a Denver writer, musician and producer.
Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.