Thursday, August 1, 2013

Concert Review: Weird Al Yankovic 7/28/2013 – Atlanta Symphony Hall

I’ve never seen Weird Al Yankovic live before.
Much like NOFX, every time Weird Al came to Atlanta (that I was aware of) I had some other business going on. Even when I was somewhat of a lapsed Al fan I kept an eye out for shows. He comes here about every two years or so and it just didn’t ever work out.
           And yeah – I said “lapsed Al fan”. I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but there were several years where I didn’t pay as close attention to Weird Al as I once had. As I noted here, Weird Al shaped a good portion of my psyche when I was growing up. But around the time “Bad Hair Day” came out I think I might have been taking myself a bit too seriously and drifted away. It didn’t help matters that between then and now we have only been blessed with four more albums. Weird Al went from releasing one every year or so to one every three or four.
Also, it was around “Bad Hair Day” that my younger sister started liking Weird Al. And that was just unacceptable.
I did catch up on albums before the show, though. The only one I still haven’t heard in its entirety is Straight Outta Lynwood.
The last time Weird Al was in town I simply missed it. Gnoll posted something about it on the ol’ Facebook and I asked him to let me know the next time because I wanted to go. So about two months ago Gnoll sent me a message asking if I wanted to go and see Weird Al on July 28th and boy howdy, did I! So he bought me a ticket and a Twinkie Weiner Sandwich and made me the happiest man on the planet.
While I haven’t actually seen Weird Al live, I am very much aware of what the experience is like. I’ve heard for years about the costume changes and interstitial videos. Heck, I even saw a live performance on Comedy Central. But nothing – AND I MEAN NOTHING – compares to experiencing that magic in person. I’ve sort of sensed that for all of these years, but I never knew it for sure until this past Sunday night.
I met up with Gnoll and the Grand Hoff early Sunday evening. I was running late because I had severely miscalculated the amount of time it takes to get from my house to Gnoll’s house. I had been thinking around twenty minutes. I don’t know why I had been thinking. In this day and age when it takes less than a minute to punch an address into your phone and get directions somewhere (driving, walking, or flying) there was absolutely no good reason for me to guess. But once I did take the time to punch in that address I realized that I was going to be late and didn’t have time to eat. Maybe I could get something at the venue.
The show was at Atlanta Symphony Hall. I told them I had never been there before, but that might have been a lie. Or a slight obfuscation of fact. I’m not sure, but it is entirely possible that I saw…
I’m not sure the internet world is ready for this revelation.
I believe I might have seen…
Tori Amos at Atlanta Symphony Hall.
But I’m not positive.
I mean, I am positive I saw Tori Amos. A couple of times, actually. And that’s kind of the shameful part. Worse, they were really good shows and I totally enjoyed them.
Go ahead. Say what you’ve got to say.
So anyway, I was (maybe?) returning to Atlanta Symphony Hall. But this time to see a true rock n’ roll legend rather than a crazy magic piano fairy who is so crazy that Neil Gaiman decided he couldn’t actually come up with a crazier character and just went ahead and based Delirium from Sandman on her. I’m so old now that I was very excited about the prospect of being seated for a concert. I am also currently on my Insane-O Pre-Dragon Con Diet. That means no beer, but liquor with diet soda is okay as long as I don’t overdo it. I haven’t had even one drink in over a month now, so I thought I would treat myself Sunday night. After all, what’s a concert without at least a bit of alcohol? Unfortunately the mixed drinks were $9. Well, I assume they were $9. The only listing on the sign that seemed anything like a mixed drink was “Cocktails”. That sounds a little fancier than a rum and Diet Coke, but I’m pretty sure it would include the more basic mixes. They probably just use the word so they can justify charging more. I wasn’t about to pay $9 for any kind of drink, so I passed. Also, they didn’t have any food.
Well, they had popcorn. “Gourmet” popcorn, no less. It might have even said “Gourmet Popped Corn”. But I don’t eat popcorn. I have had a fear of popcorn ever since my mom got a sliver of kernel lodged under one of her gums. It made its way up into the root and rotted there, causing her no small amount of pain and an eventual root canal and crown. I have had one root canal and two crowns and have no desire for any more. So no popcorn for me. Until they invent kernel-less popcorn. Then I’m in. Unless I’m on my diet.
I will give Atlanta Symphony Hall credit for their crowd management. We got there about ten minutes before the listed show time and things were very organized and orderly. It was easy to get into the front doors and obvious where to go after that. There was a merch booth to the right of the entryway to the concert hall and I wanted a Weird Al shirt pretty badly. I don’t know if I actually wanted a Weird Al shirt or if I just wanted to be able to buy some sort of memorabilia to commemorate this momentous occasion. The shirts were $25, which is okay for a concert shirt. They had some cool designs, but I have this thing where if I am going to buy a shirt at a show, it has to have the tour dates on it. The shirt I really liked didn’t have dates and the shirt with dates just wasn’t to my liking. There was a hoodie with a Weird Al logo that I liked and hadn’t seen before, but I really didn’t want to spend forty-five bucks.
The interior of the concert hall is pretty nice. It seemed sort of familiar (this was about the time I started to wonder about my Tori Amos experience) and the chairs looked really tiny. Once we made our way to three seats that I would describe as close to the best in the house I realized that they were tiny. These were movie theater-style chairs where the seat flips up when you stand up. Each chair shared a two inch armrest with its neighbor. The seats could not have been more than eighteen inches wide. We all wedged ourselves in and I leaned over and told the Grand Hoff that the chairs must have been constructed a hundred years ago when there were no Big Macs and people weren’t such fatasses.
No sooner had that comment left my mouth than I turned to my left and saw the person that would be my neighbor for the next two-and-a-half hours.
I just thought I’d place a Weird Al video there. No reason.
Our seats were absolutely fantastic. We were about five rows back, so we could see the whole stage comfortably and didn’t have to crane our necks. We weren’t quite in the center, but we were close enough. These were undoubtedly some of the best concert seats I have ever had.
There was no opening act. Tonight would be all Al. So when the lights went down and that new Weird Al logo started to increase in size everybody went nuts. And then something happened that I have dreamed about all of my life (well, since around 1989, anyway):
Fun Zone” started playing over the house speakers.
I experienced a case of Nerd Chills that rivaled the ones I get when I hear the opening notes of John Williams’ Star Wars theme. This was how I had always imagined a Weird Al show opening, but I never knew for sure. As that mad song played and Rubén Valtierra, Jim West, Steve Jay, and Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz (my favorite name ever) came out on stage I had to repress the urge to squeal like a little kid. I haven’t felt that level of excitement since… I dunno.
And then he came through the back curtain, strapped on his accordion, and launched straight into “Polkaface”. It blew my mind.
There were two minor disappointments with the Weird Al concert, and they were things that went against my expectations; not issues with quality or anything. First, in the same way I had imagined the show opening with “Fun Zone”, I also had this idea that Weird Al’s live polkas would consist of mixes of every song he’s ever included in a polka rather than just playing an album polka straight through. I don’t know where I got that idea and seeing a polka live was amazing so it really doesn’t matter.
The second minor (minor!) disappointment is that they played very few songs from before 1996. But that’s how bands work and I’ll get to the set list in a minute. The bottom line is that these were things that I noticed but that didn’t really affect my fun any.
The reason I am still one hundred percent satisfied with the show is that it lasted almost two hours and featured a ton of songs. The band would typically play a song or two, then there would be a brief intermission so that Al – and often the whole band – could change costumes. But these intermissions were actually part of the show. While the band was doing their thing the video monitor played clips of Al. These ranged from ALTV to Face to Face to mentions of Weird Al from popular television shows. They were immensely entertaining and filled the in-between spaces perfectly.
Speaking of costume changes, I have never seen so many in one performance. Going in, I did not expect the band to be in costume for each parody. I figured they’d find a sort of middle ground and play a few songs. But over the course of the night Al went through no less than fourteen costume changes, many for a single song. It was awe-inspiring. What’s more, he didn’t just stand there. The guy was a non-stop ball of energy, constantly jumping and dancing around the stage, using his body just as much as his voice or his accordion. I’m not gonna lie to you guys – I’d be exhausted just from changing clothes thirteen times in two hours. Sometimes I don’t even put pants on.
I don’t think I even need to mention how tight the band is. These are some of the most talented musicians that have ever been assembled. Their timing and performance was impeccable. This was exemplified by this bizarre thing they did at the end of the show, in the middle of “Lasagna” (I think). I hope you’ve seen the excellent British television show Mighty Boosh. And if you have, I hope you’ve seen the episode called “The (Power of the) Crimp”. I don’t know if I can properly explain a crimp, but it is a series of noises and melodies that are performed by more than two people in unison. It incorporates elements of scat, beat-boxing, spoken word poetry, and more. I don’t know if The Mighty Boosh did it first or if Weird Al and his band did it first, but the latter win. Al, Steve, and Jim perform a crimp that lasts at least three minutes and none of them missed a beat. They even performed a portion of “Grim, Grinning Ghosts” in the middle, complete with green lights shining up under their faces. It was crazy and my jaw was on the ground the whole time.
Side Note: Out of some kind of respect for Weird Al I did not record any video of this show. I don’t know why, but I just felt it would be wrong. I don’t even know that he cares about that sort of thing. Given his views on P2P sharing I kind of doubt it. But for some reason I felt like recording anything would be spoiling the magic that me and the other people in Atlanta Symphony Hall were sharing.
As far as the set list goes, I can’t say I was dissatisfied, even if I didn’t get to hear “Here’s Johnny” (or, indeed, anything off of my favorite Al album, Polka Party!). But I did get to hear the one song I was really hoping to hear live, and that was “CNR”. It was awesome.
Just to run down what I can recall, we were graced with live versions of
Polkaface, You Make Me, Smells Like Nirvana, Skipper Dan, Party in the CIA (strangely a favorite of mine – I see this and They Might Be Giants’ “Black Ops” as sister songs), Canadian Idiot, Beverly Hillbillies (I don’t have to call it by that stupid lawyer name), a medley of food songs, Amish Paradise, Craigslist, Perform This Way, and White and Nerdy. They played a few more songs than those, but I’m old and can’t remember everything.
There were several songs with a little something more than just costume changes. During the performance of “Whatever You Like” Al – dressed in an absurd red tiger-striped suit – prowled around the audience and crooned to various ladies. There were even a few pelvic thrusts.
"Ode to A Superhero” featured a member of the stage crew coming out on stage and looking irritated as he waited to hold a harmonica up to Al’s mouth for the appropriate parts.

"Fat” was for the most part like the music video, except when Al calls for a hoe, a familiar voice played over the sound system and Santa Claus came out holding a hoe. Al promptly hit him.

Fat” closed out the main set, but there was more to come.
A platoon of the 501st’s finest accompanied Weird Al and the band back out on stage and danced along to “The Saga Begins”. And then, much to my surprise and joy, they played “Yoda”. “Yoda” is one of my favorite Weird Al songs and the one that really clued me in to a larger nerd world. If this grown-up Weird Al could be into Star Wars enough to make up a song about Yoda (I wasn’t even aware of “Lola” at that point), then maybe there was hope for the future.
After the Star Wars songs were done, Al broke character.
Up until the point where a warm and genuine smile came across his face and he lifted his arms in the air and thanked everyone, I hadn’t even realized he was in character. But right at the end of the show, just for a moment, we got to see Alfred Matthew Yankovic. And it seemed that he couldn’t be happier than to know that he had just entertained that room full of strangers.
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such an amazing concert followed by such a poignant moment. Nobody does it like Weird Al Yankovic. The next time he comes back, I’ll be there.
-Phantom

2 comments:

  1. I would LOVE to see Weird Al live. He came to my hometown a couple of years ago, but sadly I couldn't go. BTW, we have kernel-less popcorn in Canada, it's made by a company called Old Dutch.

    http://s6.thisnext.com/media/largest_dimension/141B31EA.jpg

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