Straight Outta Lynwood, Straight Into Winnipeg: Weird Al Insanity

Jun 21, 2007

The Bottom Line If two hours and twenty minutes of nonstop "family-friendly" silliness sounds like fun, Weird Al is your man. Otherwise, stay home and watch something more subtle--like Monty Python.

Last night, I accomplished one of my lifelong dreams: I finally got to see Weird Al Yankovic live! Not only that, but I actually sang along and generally acted like a lunatic for a good portion of the set, and my girlfriend, who was sitting next to me, didn't break off our relationship in disgust! Two major accomplishments at once.

Weird Al is beyond question the reigning king of parody/comedy/novelty music in North America, and the 4000 fans who came to the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba on June 20th seemed to know what they were getting into. Rather than sticking to his newest album alone, Al performed a wide variety of songs from his vast back catalogue, including most of the well-known hits. It didn't take much for Al to win the crowd over--with his first appearance onstage, pumping out the "Chicken Dance" (you know...the one from the Cadbury Creme Egg commercials) on his accordion, the audience was firmly in his grasp. Singing along, laughing at the appropriate moments, and looking at neighbours and smiling, it was clear that everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Weird Al opened with one of his polka medlies, sending up recent hits in a polka style. This was followed by our first exposure to Al TV, video clips that played in between songs to facilitate costume changes. Sometimes this went on for three to four minutes, which had me doubtful at first--were we paying to watch something that could be seen on YouTube for free? I really didn't need to worry, though. A number of spliced video "interviews" featuring actual footage of celebrities and Al's misinterpretation of their words were played, and there were some truly head-scratching moments--the humour for me was trying to figure out in what POSSIBLE context Madonna could have been talking about a female "with lots of arms and legs, and...a's a stomach, you know, that produces life...creative energy, and all that stuff", or Celine Dion describing the smell of her "mother cooking". Anyway, these videos appeared along with fake educational films, some of Weird Al's many appearances on animated TV shows, and a few music videos of Al's more bizarre songs such as "Weasel Stomping Day". They meant that there was never a dull moment and allowed for more hijinks from the performers, so I really shouldn't complain.

Al followed with Canadian Idiot, apparently the first time the song has been played in Canada, and his Dylan mockery, Bob, which features his quite accurate impersonation of the singer's voice while spouting off a series of ridiculously weighty-sounding palindromes. The concert was predictably loud, and this meant that Al's lyrics were sometimes unfortunately obscured, particularly in songs featuring heavily distorted guitars. At other times, his particularly nasal voice became painfully piercing at the top of his already high register. This diminished some of the humour in his original Close but no Cigar, discussing a series of near-perfect women with ridiculously minor imperfections, and a humorous dismissal: We aren't playing horseshoes...we aren't throwing hand grenades...this isn't government're close, but no cigar. Al marched around the stage like an idiot in the P. Diddy parody All About the Pentiums, and his strobe-lit flailing got one of the biggest laughs from my girlfriend, who is not a regular listener to his music. Then Al came out with James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" retooled as Pitiful, featuring the singer stripping off successive layers of shirts to reveal new and increasingly ridiculous outfits. Notably, "Atlantic Records Sucks" appeared on one t-shirt, referencing the refusal by Blunt's label to allow Al to release the song on CD...after permission had previously been granted and the song had already been recorded. This particular number ended with Al dressed in a yellow Sponge-Bob t-shirt above a pink tutu and heart-emblazoned boxer shorts.

In Want 2 B Ur Lover, Al descended into the crowd like a smarmy R & B singer, winning their affection with disgustingly creepy lines like "My love for you's like diarrhea--I just can't keep it in". Billed as a family-friendly show, potty humour was not used terribly often, while a few sexual references and violent descriptions put this at about a PG rating. Sue Ya featured a dread-locked, head-banging frontman with Rage Against the Machine-style accompaniment. Weird Al's backup band is truly incredible. The four musicians--guitar, bass, drums and keyboard--are masters at playing whatever style the particular parody requires, but seem willing to let their formidable talents play second fiddle to Al's nerdy humour.

After this series of songs, all interrupted by those video clips, the band totally changed the format by busting out a long mega-medley that visited many of Al's older songs. Like most of his fans, I first grew to love Weird Al as a young teenager, and the memory of those days is enough for him to hold on to my affections. Unfortunately, I was a young teenager in the mid-90's, so most of the newer songs weren't well-known by me. The medly threw in snippets of some of his recent parodies, like Couch Potato (Eminem), Complicated Song (Avril Lavigne), Spiderman (Billy Joel), Confessions (Usher), the epic Stuck at the Drive-Through (R. Kelly), Ebay (Backstreet Boys), and Do I Creep You Out (Taylor Hicks), but it also revisited older ones like Bedrock Anthem (Chili Peppers), Pretty Fly for a Rabbi (Offspring), Gump (Presidents of the USA), and Eat It (Michael Jackson). This must have taken about half an hour, but the music and the laughs just kept flowing.

The highlight of the show (for me) followed the medley with a Star Wars-themed set. A cloaked Sith Lord pounded out some Bach on the organ before switching to the singalong favourite The Saga Begins, to the tune of American Pie. The Kinks-inspired Yoda followed, which was another crowd-pleaser. The Jedi-outfitted band interjected some weird unison chanting and five-part a cappella harmony near the end which seemed to my ears to be inspired by the rhythmic chants that Indian drummers practice when they are learning to play the tabla. Whatever the case, this bit of weirdness was only to be expected by this point.

More of Al's older favourites followed: the grungy Smells Like Nirvana featuring real gargling, the spooky Amish Paradise featuring a black-clad, bearded Al, and the big hit White & Nerdy with a real Segway entrance and the guitarist and bassist as cheesy backup dancers. Al saved the most outrageous for last, with Fat (taken from Michael Jackson's Bad) featuring choreographed 80s dance a fat suit.

Was there anything left? Only the encore: the twelve-minute epic Albuquerque, which has probably the most bizarre lyrics of any Weird Al original. This first-person narration discusses a childhood of sauerkraut abuse, a plane crash, a battle with a hermaphrodite over a snorkel, a rabid weasel attack, romance and gore. It was fitting end to a terribly silly evening.

If you've enjoyed any of Weird Al's song parodies, you would probably be amused by his concerts. He is a bonafide performer and a surprisingly versatile musician. His brand of humour is not for everyone, particularly those who prefer subtlety, but this former teenager had a blast.

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