BWW Review: Classy Meets Wacky in 'WEIRD AL''s Must-See STRINGS ATTACHED Tour at Melbourne, FL's King Center
"Weird Al" says if you want to know someone's favorite Al-bum, just ask which one came out when they were 12.
That's Bad Hair Day for me, and he's not wrong, but my love for all things Al dates back to his first album in 1983. And judging by the sounds of the almost-sold-out crowd at Melbourne's Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday night, I'm hardly alone.
STRINGS ATTACHED improbably finds the Prince of Parodies on a symphony tour, partnering with a 41-piece orchestra in towns big and small. If that seems excessive for a comedy show, consider that some of his biggest hits stem from fundamentally good songs.
When he sings "Jurassic Park," it's Jimmy Webb's cantata-inspired "MacArthur Park" that soars on strings. Ditto "Amish Paradise," believe it or not. True, it parodies Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise," but that song was itself an update of an old Stevie Wonder tune.
Yankovic is quite the musician himself, and not just as an accordionist (a talent he kept to himself until the evening's encore). Each album includes originals of his own composition, and those have never truly gotten their due. To that end, last year, he hit the road with a Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, his first chance in 35 years to set the parodies aside and show people what else he can do.
STRINGS ATTACHED feels like an extension of that, with originals and rarities comprising nearly half the setlist (several of them parodying a particular artist's general style).
After four decades of making us laugh and self-assess, it's gratifying to see "The Weird One" enjoying the fruits of his labor, being himself on stage, and feeling free to share with us whatever he thinks makes for the best night of musical comedy - whether the casual fan knows it or not. Behind the mic, he seems fully at ease, and the energy he radiates is one of "we're all in this together," stripped of pretense and just here to have fun. More than once, he ventures into the audience, hilariously getting way too close for comfort.
The nearly seven-minute "Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" and doo-woppy "One More Minute" are just two of many Al-riginals that sound especially splendid on strings.
But lest you worry it isn't the full-fledged Yankovic stage experience, rest assured: this tour delivers. I've always said a "Weird Al" show is like a series of music videos brought to life on stage. True to form, nearly each performance in STRINGS ATTACHED brings an elaborate costume change, with occasional video interstitials. And with the exceptions of "Eat It" and "Fat," nearly all his household hits make the cut. (The mind reels with theories about why those two songs weren't included - Leaving Neverland fallout, perhaps? Or is he just tired of the fat suit? After thousands of shows in heavy makeup and padding, I reckon he's entitled to a break.)
I first saw Al live when he was Touring with Scissors in the late 1990s and then dutifully attended 2015's Mandatory World Tour. I'm pleased to report that STRINGS ATTACHED feels like part of the same series, and the deep cuts only help to ease the sting of his Vanity Tour having missed The Sunshine State. Even with the symphony, he's brought along three backup singers and his venerable band, the same überversatile performers who've accompanied him on stage, records, and in music videos for decades now: Steve Jay (bass), Jim "Kimo" West (guitar), Rubén Valtierra (keys), and Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz (drums), their familiar visages helping to make longtime fans feel at home.
Seeing "Weird Al" live is as much empowerment as entertainment. People talk about him the way they talk about support groups or social clubs. I can't say he made it cool to be a nerd, but he did make being nerdy fun. And his brand of weirdness was always wrapped up in being smart.
The news media are perennially shocked to learn that Yankovic has a degree in architecture and a genius IQ, or that he started kindergarten early and still went on to skip grades in school. But for those of us who would hang on his sharp turns of lyric and incisive send-ups of pop culture during childhood, that was part of the appeal.
Al's work was silly but also intellectual, and he was the rare recording artist who got rich and famous principally because of his brains. To boot, his persona seemed genuinely good-spirited and unaffected. And his pervasive presence in pop culture meant he was accepted, and by extension, so were you.
Upon seeing this show on my Instastory, one friend was incredulous. "He's still making music!?" he asked. For those who don't know, Yankovic's career is currently at an all-time high. His most recent album took the #1 spot nationwide and became his best-selling yet, followed by his fourth and fifth Grammy wins. He is the rare artist to operate as both a legacy act and a current hitmaker all at once. His appeal spans the generations, and sure enough, in the row behind me, I heard a man in his fifties and a girl probably no more than 12 both singing along to every word in every song, no matter which decade it sprang from.
Surprisingly enough, the man who made it big by satirizing the here-and-now has turned his own act into something timeless. It's almost objectively true to say that seeing him in concert is unlike anything else. And there's no better time to do it than now, in his second heyday and with four dozen instruments by his side.
STRINGS ATTACHED is just getting started, with more than 50 cities left to go in the U.S. and Canada (and at eight of those shows, he'll expand the orchestra size to 71). To get tickets, visit the official "Weird Al" website. To learn more about other events coming to the lovely Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne, FL, visit KingCenter.com.
6/8/19 SETLIST (with a Few Observations):
1. The Raiders March from Raiders of the Lost Ark (orchestra only)
2. Theme from Mission: Impossible (orchestra only)
3. Theme from Superman (orchestra only)
4. Selection from Beethoven's Fifth (orchestra only)
5. Fun Zone from Yankovic's UHF (orchestra + Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz)
6. MEDLEY: I Lost on Jeopardy / Rocky Road / Like a Surgeon - a jazzy take that has the symphony joining in at just the right time
7. The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota - an opportunity for Al to poke fun at the things Florida is known for
8. Word Crimes
9. One More Minute
Drum solo by Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz
10. Jurassic Park
11. Don't Download This Song - while this song on record has one of Al's rare (and still PG-rated) obscenities, that word was omitted from the live performance
12. Weasel Stomping Day
Bass solo by Steve Jay
14. Harvey the Wonder Hamster - an old fan favorite never before included in one of Yankovic's setlists
15. Jackson Park Express
16. Smells Like Nirvana
17. Dare to Be Stupid
18. White & Nerdy - complete with "Weird Al" riding in on a segway
19. Amish Paradise
20. Encore: The Saga Begins - accompanied by a procession of Dark Side personnel
21. Encore: Star Wars (Main Title) (orchestra only) - a brief excerpt only
22. Encore: Chiapanecas (Mexican Hand Clapping Song) (keys solo by Rubén Valtierra, dressed as Darth Sidious)
23. Encore: Yoda - the closing chant that often accompanies this song on stage was not included tonight, perhaps in light of the setting
What do you think of "Weird Al" and his STRINGS ATTACHED symphony tour? Let me know on Twitter @AaronWallace.
Photo Credit: "Weird Al" Yankovic - STRINGS ATTACHED Tour