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Review: Why a 'Weird Al' Concert Without Any Parodies Is the Most 'Weird Al' Concert of All

Review: Why a 'Weird Al' Concert Without Any Parodies Is the Most 'Weird Al' Concert of All

Iconic parodist Yankovic makes nerd dreams come true with a night of lesser-known fan favorites at Orlando's Dr. Phillips Center

"Weird Al" Yankovic is back on the road with The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, a revival of the 2018 leg that famously featured nearly no parodies at all, despite the fact that song spoofs are what earned "The Weird One" his name and 12 million record sales.

The irony of the tour's title is that Yankovic is notoriously one of the nicest guys showbiz has ever seen. If there's one thing you can hold against a man known for wearing Hawaiian shirts, sharing profits with other artists when he doesn't have to, and singing a hit song called "White & Nerdy," well, it's probably not vanity.

The last time I reviewed one his concerts, he was singing with a symphony in Melbourne, Florida. (The last few years have found Yankovic trying all kinds of new things on the road and behind the scenes, including next month's biopic with Daniel Radcliffe of all people in the lead role. And in my interview with him, he said he's even thinking about Broadway.)

I wrote then that fans talk about "Weird Al" concerts the way people talk about support groups or social clubs. After all, he spent some forty years mainstreaming nerdiness in a way that felt validating, welcoming, and incisive to anyone who ever felt a little less than "normal." I was one of the millions who found in his music a safe space that doubled as a sand box for having fun with language, culture, and comedy. And his latest stuff is as sharp and successful as ever. (His most recent album notched a #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

So whatever his tour title may be, we know that for Yankovic, self-indulgence is really self-deprecation, and if anything, it's an opportunity for him to give the hardcore fans the show they could only dare dream of: a night full of the original comedy compositions and genre pastiches that have comprised roughly half the tracks on each of his blockbuster albums despite never fully getting their due in mainstream media or on MTV.

Al warns his audience early on what they're in for: a night of "deeply unpopular songs" - a promise that was already made abundantly clear in all the advertising but nevertheless earned ecstatic cheers from the sold-out crowd at Dr. Phillips Center. Like me, many of the patrons probably know Al's deep cuts as well as any of the big hits - or maybe they've heard all the buzz from his other tour stops, where the setlists frequently differ but always to audience acclaim. Some are surely casual fans okay with the unfamiliar, or maybe they just didn't do their homework and must now steel themselves against the knowledge that tonight will not be the night that they hear "Like a Surgeon" live in concert at long last.

But here's why that works, no matter your level of familiarity with "Weird Al": this is a concert, yes, but it's also a comedy show. And just like you don't know a stand-up comic's material before heading into the local laugh factory, you don't need to have heard a single one of these songs to get a big kick out of them in concert.

That's especially true thanks to the show's absolutely A-plus sound mixing and speaker system, at least at Dr. Phillips Center. Al's lyrics were as cleanly perceptible as any I have ever heard at a performance of any kind, which seems extra important for a show where lyrics are not only focal but also admittedly lesser-known.

Wherever Al found his sound engineer, let's hope he tells others in the industry about it. That goes for the lighting designer too. While Al's parody-oriented concerts are famously elaborate - each song is essentially a music video brought to life - fans might reasonably expect the Ill-Advised Vanity Tour to be more of a sitting-still-on-a-stool affair. Actually, it is, but the lighting and fog design are so entrancing - and Al's stage presence so intimate and connecting - that each performance becomes an experience all its own, even without a costume or a video package in sight.

And as for the stool sitting of it all, that format lends a new feature to the "Weird Al" concertgoing experience: VH-1 Storytellers-style introductions to various songs. While some of the introductions are less facetious than others, each lends fascinating or comically delightful context to the song at hand, like when he linked fan favorite "One More Minute" to a real-life breakup, or when he tricked us into thinking we were about to hear the debut of a new song from his upcoming movie only to play the cinema-themed (and seasonably Halloweeny) Nature Trail to Hell instead, much to the crowd's audible delight.

Other highlights for the Orlando audience included a lounge version of "Dare to Be Stupid," 2003's human condition-commiserating "Why Does This Always Happen to Me?," Bad Hair Day's sadistic holiday classic "The Night Santa Went Crazy," skeptical ska jam "Your Horoscope for Today," and not one but two nods to Walt Disney World: a brief cover of The Haunted Mansion's "Grim Grinning Ghosts" and the Jungle Cruise-inspired "Skipper Dan" (featuring an appropriately Magic Kingdom-ish calliope effect).

To top it all off, Yankovic made his uber-long "Albuquerque" even longer when he added lyrics and then decided to start the song over again nearly two-thirds of the way through just for the heck of it. This tour is ridiculously self-indulgent, after all. And yet I was eating it up.

When it came time for every concert's obligatory clap-for-encore ritual, Al decided to stay on stage and nonchalantly check his texts until he "happened to notice" people were demanding more - a brilliant little bit of commentary all its own. And then he graciously treated everyone to what they thought they wouldn't get tonight: a mashup of his hit parodies - albeit rearranged in transformative style.

An evening with Alfred Yankovic on stage is always a blend of concert, comedy, and community. The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour feels like an opportunity to give back - letting Al show us everything else he can do (covering The Rolling Stones, for instance) while indulging our own inner geeks at the same time. When you think about it, being into something super specific and relatively unpopular is really what nerdom is all about, which makes a parody-free "Weird Al" show surprisingly the "Weird Al"-iest show of all.

Setlist

  1. Lame Claim to Fame
  2. Close But No Cigar
  3. Dare to Be Stupid
  4. CNR
  5. One More Minute
  6. Dog Eat Dog
  7. Velvet Elvis
  8. Why Does This Always Happen to Me?
  9. Your Horoscope for Today
  10. Nature Trail to Hell
  11. The Night Santa Went Crazy
  12. Midnight Star
  13. Skipper Dan
  14. Buy Me a Condo
  15. Good Old Days
  16. Albuquerque
  17. ENCORE: It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)
  18. ENCORE: Amish Paradise / Smells Like Nirvana / White & Nerdy / Word Crimes / Yoda / Yoda Chant

Note: The show opened with a half-hour stand-up set by the thoughtfully funny, delightfully punny Emo Phillips, followed by a roughly twenty-minute intermission. Yankovic's set then played without further intermission. Tickets for additional "Weird Al" tour stops can be found at the artist's official website. Tickets for additional Dr. Phillips Center programming can be found at the venue's box office online.



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From This Author - Aaron Wallace

Aaron Wallace is a podcaster, attorney, and the bestselling author of several books on travel and entertainment, including read more about this author)


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