“Weird Al” funny as ever
Strings a nice touch, but impact is negligible
By Steve Metsch
One year after a bare-bones tour, “Weird Al” Yankovic is in the midst of a 67-show tour that is the extreme opposite.
This time, his “Strings Attached” tour features an orchestra based in each city he visits. On Saturday night, at the Miller High Life Theatre, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra sat in.
Unlike last year, His Weirdness had the colorfully wild costumes and video highlights from his long and successful career.
While the orchestra is nice idea, I’m not sure it added that much to our concert experience. Sure, it made for a decent $30 tour T-shirt with Al wearing a tuxedo and strumming a standup bass, but I’m not entirely sold on what it brought to the table musically.
There were songs that benefitted greatly with the power of an orchestra.
“Jurassic Park,” for example, achieved nearly regal status when the orchestra kicked into full gear. It’s based on the Richard Harris song “MacArthur Park.” And we loved when Yankovic sat checking his phone and sipping a drink during a lengthy vocal-free stretch. Good stuff, Al.
And the bitter Al original, “You Don’t Love Me Any More,” perhaps the night’s shining moment, did have a depth that made the ballad downright lush. How do you not laugh?
But, as my 22-year-old son – another big fan of Weird Al – noted during our drive home, there were times when Yankovic’s outstanding band overwhelmed the orchestra. Maybe it was the sound mixing board? Maybe electric guitars, keyboards and drums are too much for violins and cellos?
It could have been really interesting if Weird Al performed just with the orchestra, which, by the way, sounded terrific opening the night with movie themes from “Indiana Jones,” “Mission Impossible,” “Superman” and “Star Wars.” But that would’ve meant leaving his band at home. And he’s a loyal guy.
After a 20-minute break, Yankovic and his band appeared on stage. After the instrumental “Fun Zone,” it was time for what we came for.
“I Lost on Jeopardy,” “I Love Rocky Road” and “Like a Surgeon” were given an uplugged and jazzy presentation with good results. I liked how Yankovic stretched out notes for a eternity during “Surgeon.” It was quite amusing.
Heck, he is amusing pretty much all the time. Some people don’t see it, I know, but to me the guy is a musical genius. To take popular songs from such a wide range of genres – rock, pop, rap, country, etc. – rewrite them and make them funny is a talent. And, he’s been making us laugh for a long time. Why he’s not in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is beyond me.
Like any band leader, he’s dependent on a great band, and he does have that. His band has been with him for decades. They can and do play any type of music Yankovic decides to parody. That’s true talent, folks.
So, let’s give it up for Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz on drums, Jim “Kimo” West on lead guitar, Steve Jay on bass and Ruben Valtierra, whom Yankovic called “the new guy.” He joined the band in 1991. Two backup singers helped nicely.
Being in Milwaukee, Yankovic said Wisconsin is the top dairy producing state, but only 34thin balls of twine. That’s right, he dusted off and played “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.” (Pause here for longtime fans to recover. It was great live.)
It’s one of his lengthy story songs filled with vivid imagery like the singer being so moved by the twine ball “I had to pop a beer.” It was a nice surprise to hear that. So were “Weasel Stomping Day,” and “Harvey the Wonder Hamster.”
We didn’t expect to hear “Jackson Park Express” from the 2014 Grammy-winning album “Mandatory Fun.” It’s a hilarious romp through the mind of a guy riding a bus as his imagination runs wild regarding a female passenger sitting near him.
Some hokey jokes remain, like Yankovic saying we were finally getting to the long-awaited drum solo, only to have it last a few seconds. Ah, that’s okay. He’s made a nice living with his endearing kind of corny.
There were many hits played. “Don’t Download This Song” sounded terrific as he cautioned doing so would lead listeners to “robbing liquor stores, and selling crack, and running over school kids with your car.” Haven’t heard it? Think of those We Are The World anthems.
“Tacky,” his take on Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” was well-received as he stepped down from the stage to sing while walking up and down aisles of the main floor.
Things kicked into high gear when Yankovic and his band dressed in different costumes for “Smells Like Nirvana,” “Dare to Be Stupid,” “White & Nerdy,” and the wildly popular “Amish Paradise,” which – judging by the volume of the crowd – was THE song folks were waiting to hear.
All of those are parodies of popular songs in a wide range of styles. And they all sounded terrific.
Speaking of that, anyone who wanted to hear “Fat” or “Eat It,” parodies of Michael Jackson songs “Bad” and “Beat It,” was stuck relying on their memory. In a story in Friday’s Chicago’s Sun-Times, Yankovic said he shelved those after a documentary this year addressed Jackson’s alleged abuse of youngsters.
There were some songs I would’ve loved to hear. “Canadian Idiot”‘ and “Gump” are high on that list. But nothing says “Weird Al” more than his polka versions of hit songs. Typically, it’s in a medley of pop songs. There’s one from his distant past that is all Rolling Stones songs. We were thinking, with the Stones touring this summer, maybe, just maybe …
But, nope, Yankovic did not dust off any of his polka-flavored covers. In fact, the only time we saw his accordion was for the final encore song, “Yoda,” which is based on The Kinks’ “Lola.” You need not like “Star Wars” to enjoy it.
In the end, “Weird Al” and his band delivered a 90-minute show that was as tasty as the brats and beers we enjoyed at The Brat Stop in Kenosha during our drive home.
The tour visits Indianapolis on Aug. 29, Peoria on Aug. 30, and Kansas City on Aug. 31.