All words by Andy Johnson
All photos by Joel Didriksen
Over 30 years ago, Alfred Yankovic started making music for weird people. Specifically: nerds. Who else would care about a wild-haired, bespectacled accordionist performing lo-fi Queen parodies except for nerds? It was only a generation ago that being a “nerd” wasn’t cool. As John Hughes told us, nerds played Dungeons & Dragons, wore pocket protectors (did anyone ever wear these, or is this a revisionist lie, like how Ronnie Regan “never” raised taxes?), hated sports, and never got laid. Indeed, back then, there was nothing more socially repugnant than to be labeled a nerd.
Now, geek is chic. Nerdy shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead dominate the ratings. Video games are ubiquitous. Annual Comic Cons on both coasts sell out and chances are, if you’re reading this review, you have a passing knowledge of who Captain Jean-Luc Picard is. Many beautiful people are now stumbling over each other to assure others that, yes, they have been nerds all along. I may have no shot of ever bedding Mila Kunis, but there is something endearing to know that she’s wasted hours on World of Warcraft.
I’m a nerd myself. Not to boast, but I can quickly recall the species of one Admiral Ackbar and while I’ve never been drawn to the world of Azeroth like Meg Griffin, I do confess that the first piece of music I ever owned was Weird Al’s second album, “’Weird Al’ Yankovic in 3-D” – on cassette, if that earns me extra nerd points. However, I admit it has been many years since I sat down and enjoyed Al’s tunes, preferring your Arcade Fires and Radioheads of the world to his brand of Flintstone-themed parodies of California funk punk.
Considering the rise of geek culture in the past decade, I wondered what type of clientele would show up to see Weird Al at the Warner Theatre. While I do attend many shows, I can accurately wager that those who attend a Skrillex show will be young and dumb and Wild Flag patrons will be bespectacled bloggers who wax passive aggressive on their Twitters how Apple sullied the good name of Stevie Jobs by releasing the iPhone 4S instead of No. 5. To paraphrase another soul who was taken from us far too early, the iPhone ain’t nothing but a number.
Was the crowd hip? Absolutely not. The ethnic makeup rivaled a Tea Party rally. I’m an English major, I know how the proper usage of ‘literally,’ so believe me when I say there were literally no black people in the audience. There were as many families in the crowd as there were guys with ponytails. I counted three “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” related t-shirts. Several girls wore those stupid girl fedoras that I hate so much. Here’s a hint to any ladies that may be reading this Weird Al review (Ed note: lol): never wear a hat indoors. Instant bonercide. You think you look sexy, but you do not look sexy; you look like Anna Chlumsky in “My Girl” and the only thing I remember about that garbage movie is that she killed Macaulay Culkin’s acting career.
With a possible exception of artists like the Disco Biscuits or Phish, I’ve never seen a more zealous fanbase than what turned out for Weird Al. People sitting around me boasted giant smiles talking about the number of times they’ve seen Al live, recounting setlists from past shows and times they’ve traded quips with Jim “Bermuda” Shwartz. A nice middle-aged man sitting next to me briefed me what to expect – costume changes, funny videos between songs, lots of showmanship – and assured me I was going to have a good time.
I, of course, had my doubts. Who wouldn’t? Could a 51-year-old man with hair like Taylor Swift really bring the ruckus? And with an accordion, arguably the nerdiest of all instruments?
Guess what! Weird Al kicks ass.
When you’ve been around for 30+ years and have parodied the likes of Nirvana, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, you accrue a certain amount of respect. I contend that Al is one of the rare artists (Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Portishead, Robyn) who is critic-proof. How can you hate the guy? He contributes only positive vibes to the world, and even if you don’t like his parodies, there’s still a certain appreciation that every few years, ol’ Al cuts a new album mixing up Green Day and B.o.B. Remember how pissy Coolio got when Al parodied “Gangata’s Paradise?” He came off like an asshole… which arguably ended his career. Prince once issued an order that Weird Al could never make eye contact with him. There’s a reason why no one gives a shit about Prince whereas Weird Al still packs the house in his fifth decade of making music.
Al came out in his trademark shirt and squeezebox, accented with a tight four piece band, ripping through “Polka Face,” a medley of contemporary hits by Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Kid Cudi, Katy Perry, and not to mention that damn “Replay” song that has managed to outlive Qaddafi. He continued with “TMZ,” a spry remake of “You Belong With Me” lampooning celebrity culture, and brought up a true deep cut, “You Make Me,” reminiscent of Oingo Boingo. What’s that? You don’t know who Oingo Boingo is? You kids got the Spotify, check ‘em out.
A majority of Al’s songs are straight up parodies – I think you can deduce what “Canadian Idiot” is about without me explaining it to you – but he always sprinkles his set with a few original pieces “in the style” of artists without directly parodying a specific song. “Skipper Dan” mocked Weezer, narrating the troubles of a tour guide at theme park, and “CNR” lauded the Chuck Norris-esque life and gave a nod to Game Show Network dandy Charles Nelson Reilly in the style of the bluesy White Stripes (a nice touch was performing the song sans bass-player).
The problem is that a few of his older pseudo-covers and original songs work magnificently alongside their parodies – “Dare To Be Stupid” and “Hardware Store” are two of note – the songs off his new album Alpocalypse were of a quality that reeked more of Morning-Drive-DJ than one of the best parodists of our time. These songs should have been replaced with better songs, such as “Like A Surgeon” or “It’s All About The Pentiums.”
I can’t complain too much because he brought the hits, slipping into the appropriate costume for each song. “Smells Like Nirvana” featured Al in grunge gear and a left-handed guitar (nice touch). “Perform This Way” had Al in a wacky mutant peacock costume. Al and his band went all Men In Black for “Party In The CIA.” A surprise of the night came when Al rolled in on a Segway wearing a do-rag and chain for “White & Nerdy”. His giant suit from the “Fat” video even made an appearance during the final song of the main set. These costumes, while gimmicky, are essential to the show. Do you really want to see Al sing “Amish Paradise” without wearing his curls and beard as seen in the music video? Such a thought is an infringement on your rights as a ticket-payer. It’s outrageous, egregious, preposterous.
In order to kill time between songs so Al could switch wigs, he played clips from his ALTV show featuring spliced footage of Al messing with celebrities like Eminem and Jessica Simpson. These got a hearty chuckle from the audience, but I was glad to see that Al gave some time to acknowledge the famous “Wheel of Fish” scene from UHF, Al’s quirky motion picture that remains woefully underappreciated. You’re telling me that E Street Cinema is showing midnight showings of a guy who sews buttholes together but can’t give some love to a cult classic featuring vignettes like “Ghandi II” or “Conan the Librarian?” Forget Wall Street, someone needs to occupy E Street.
But in addition to these original pieces that Al’s demented mind has whipped up, they also spliced in clips of shows like The Simpsons and How I Met Your Mother referencing Al’s work. To put things bluntly, the man is a cultural institution. There is no other Weird Al in American society, and there will never be another Weird Al.
Considering how deeply cynical our culture has come, I truly doubt that we’d ever give eyeball time to a nerd who sings about his bologna or why he lost on Jeopardy. That makes me sad, because once Al finally decides to retire, all we’re going to have left in the “comedy music” subgenre are the hit-or-miss Lonely Island, the give-it-up-already Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover, and Das Racist, who string together shitty non-sequiturs like how the Doc in Human Centipede strings together shitty… well.. you know. Then again, I may have spoke too soon, because if Herman Cain doesn’t end up leading our great nation forward into the 21st century, he can always find work tarnishing John Lennon classics.
He concluded the set with an encore of his two Star Wars related pieces: the spot-on retelling of Don McLean’s “American Pie” with “The Saga Begins” and his twisted remake of The Kink’s “Lola” with “Yoda.” Al and the band came dressed out as Jedis, flanked with Vader and a division of stormtroopers. As the crowd sang along to Anakin’s rise, I was amazed with the level of showmanship that Weird Al delivered. Everyone in the crowd, myself included, were completely satisfied. Was it nerdy to be singing lyrics like “My my this here Anakin guy / May be Vader someday later – now he’s just a small fry.” Yeah it was. But then again, there’s nothing wrong with being a nerd. I’m fine being called a nerd, and chances are you are too. In reality, anyone who likes technology, or science fiction, or obsesses over any subgenre is in actuality a nerd.
So go ahead. Call Weird Al a nerd. Call his fans nerds. The stigma of being a nerd is long over. Our president’s a nerd, our best actresses are nerds, and without nerds like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerburg, who knows what today’s culture would resemble. Call me a nerd, call me a geek, call me a dweeb. I don’t care. Call me anything you want. I’m completely all right being known as a nerd, because I’d rather be a nerd than a fucking hipster.