“Weird Al” Yankovic is a national treasure. The wild-and-wacky song parodist has been lightly skewering popular music (and culture) for more than 30 years, turning radio hits of yesteryear into songs about food, and YouTube sensations of today into songs about the Internet. The fact that Al only seems to get better and more popular as time goes by (2014’s Mandatory Fun was his first album to top the Billboard 200 chart) speaks not only to his ability to stay current with the modern zeitgeist, but to his skill as a musician and his family-friendly-yet-quietly-subversive sense of humor.
So yeah, “Weird Al” played Summerfest Saturday night and it was glorious. Here are some pertinent questions (and answers) for the show.
Did he open with a song from his latest album, Mandatory Fun?
Well, technically the show started with the instrumental “Fun Zone,” from the UHF soundtrack. But yes, “Weird Al” opened his Summerfest show at the BMO Harris Pavilion Saturday night with “Tacky,” a parody of Pharrell’s “Happy.” Appearing on the Pavilion’s giant video screens in a decidedly, well, tacky outfit, Al slowly danced and made his way from the rocky lakeshore behind the stage to the stage itself, all the while singing the opening minutes of the song. It was a nice visual callback to both the “Happy” and “Tacky” videos, and it provided the wild-haired parodist a hero’s welcome when he finally joined his band on stage. (That band, it should be noted, was as spot-on as ever. Mad props to drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz.)
The rest of Mandatory Fun was well represented throughout the show. A handful of original “style parodies” like “Lame Claim To Fame” (Southern Culture On The Skids) and “First World Problems” (Pixies) made the set list, along with true-blue parodies like “Foil” (Lorde’s “Royals”), “Handy” (Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”), and the sublime “Word Crimes” (Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”). For “Foil,” Al even acted out the video’s over-the-top cooking-show theme, making the song’s even-more-over-the-top twist that much more delightful. Oh, and he played his newest polka mix, “Now That’s What I Call Polka!” which included nods to some of the biggest hits of three years ago from Miley Cyrus, One Direction, Psy, Kesha, Daft Punk, and more.
Did he play any old songs?
Yes, plenty of them. Al’s career stretches back to a self-titled album released in 1983 (!) Two songs from that album, “I Love Rocky Road” and “Another One Rides The Bus” made appearances at Saturday night’s show, albeit in medley form. But oh, those medleys were a thing of beauty: The first contained “Party In The CIA,” “All About The Pentiums,” “Handy,” “Bedrock Anthem,” “Another One Rides The Bus,” “Ode To A Superhero,” “Gump,” “Inactive,” “eBay,” and “Canadian Idiot.” The second was a parody in and of itself, with “Eat It,” “I Lost On Jeopardy,” “I Love Rocky Road,” and “Like A Surgeon” all performed in the august, deadly serious style of Eric Clapton’s acoustic “Layla.” It was funny, random, and masterful.
Some of Al’s biggest past hits got the full performance treatment. “Perform This Way” found the singer donning a ridiculous squid-themed outfit in honor of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” “Smells Like Nirvana” featured punk-rock cheerleaders straight out of the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “White And Nerdy” opened with Al tooling around the stage on a Segway. “Amish Paradise” had the entire band sporting fake beards and conservative Amish gear. Then there was “Fat,” which featured Al in a full fat suit and a fat face prosthetic. At one point, he even punched out a not-fat-enough Santa Claus. Yo, Ding Dong, man, Ding Dong. Ding Dong, yo.
Were there tons of costume changes?
It wouldn’t be a “Weird Al” show without them. By our count there were 17 costume changes, including bite-sized ones during the medleys. (A tool belt for “Handy,” for instance.) A “Weird Al” show isn’t just a concert—it’s a production.
Were there tons of video clips in between songs?
You bet. “Weird Al” shows have always relied on between-song video clips to facilitate the aforementioned costume changes. In the past, those clips were usually old Al TV episodes and UHF highlights. Both were present at Saturday’s show (Al’s “interviews” with Eminem and the full Gandhi II trailer killed), but the majority of the clips were from other media that featured references to Al. It was an impressive and seemingly endless list: How I Met Your Mother, The Naked Gun, Friends, The Big Bag Theory, The Powerpuff Girls, 30 Rock, King Of The Hill (“I’m going to die friendless and alone like Weird Al Yankovich!”), Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and many, many more. It was a stunning testament to just how deeply Al has infiltrated and shaped pop-culture for more than three decades. Many of his musical targets have come and gone; Al remains.
Did he play “Dare To Be Stupid”?
Did he play “Frank’s 2000” TV” or “The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota”?
Was the encore both of his Star Wars songs, “The Saga Begins” and “Yoda”?
When you have two songs about Star Wars, you’re damn right you’re ending the night with both of them. Following a James Brown-style exit (“I can’t do no more!”) Al and his band returned in full Jedi gear, accompanied by a small army of dancing Stormtroopers and even Darth Vader himself. Don McLean’s interminable “American Pie” became the infinitely more enjoyable “The Saga Begins,” inspiring the massive BMO Harris Pavilion crowd to wave their arms back and forth during the “My, my, this here Anakin guy / May be Vader someday later, now he’s just a small fry” chorus. As for “Yoda,” it featured Al rocking his trademark accordion and selling every last ridiculous line to the timeless parody of the Kinks’ “Lola.” Old and new fans smiled, families came together, and everyone chanted along. It was lovely.
Oh, and hardened reviewers remembered the first time they heard “Weird Al” when they were in grade school, and remembered how good it felt to finally claim a particular type of music, however silly, as their own. They remembered dubbing and trading cassettes of In 3-D and Dare To Be Stupid and Polka Party! and Even Worse between their small group of dorky best friends, and smiled as they watched “Weird Al” live with two of those best friends decades later. But above all, they remembered the simple joy of music, and the sense of relief in discovering that music could be—gasp!—funny. They remembered, and they had a blast.
“But I know that I’ll be coming back some day / I’ll be playing this part ’till I’m old and gray” sang Al in the closing moments of “Yoda.” Written in 1985, the lyrics have certainly proven true for Star Wars. It’s safe to say they’ll hold true for Al, too.