I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’ve seen “Weird Al” Yankovic approximately 78 times. From county fairs and tiny clubs to fancy ballrooms and performing arts centers, I’ve seen Al everywhere. Hell, I’ve seen him three times at Summerfest alone. If you’re surprised that the guy (me) who organizes semi-annual “Weird Al Weeks” on this very site has seen Weird Al a bunch of times, you really shouldn’t be.
So why am I focusing on yet another Weird Al show for this “Take be back to Summerfest” column? And why on Earth am I focusing on yet another Weird Al Summerfest show? Well, the year should tell you everything you need to know: 1984—a.k.a. the year Weird Al truly became, you know, Weird Al.
First, here’s audio of the whole show! It took place on Summerfest’s now-defunct “Rock Stage” (located on the south end of the grounds where the BMO Harris Pavilion is today), and it kicked off at 10:15 p.m. The recording sounds great!
Back on July 4, 1984—the exact date of this Summerfest show—Al Yankovic was a wild-eyed, keyed-up, and gloriously coiffed parody singer just shy of his 25th birthday. He was also just a few months removed from the release of his breakthrough second album, “Weird Al” Yankovic In 3-D. You know, the one that starts off with a little song called “Eat It.”
(An aside: Have you seen the recently unearthed “coverage” take of the “Eat It” video? Incredible.)
Weirdly (ha), Al’s 1984 Summerfest set did not start off with “Eat It.” In fact, “Eat It” didn’t make an appearance at all. Why? I have no idea! (My then 6-year-old self wasn’t at the show.) But the eight songs that did populate the roughly half-hour set—all but one from In 3-D—were/are some old-school doozies:
The Brady Bunch
Polkas On 45
I Lost On Jeopardy
Buy Me A Condo
King Of Suede
Al’s recent “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tours” have almost exclusively featured original and non-parody songs. Of the non-parody cuts found in the ’84 setlist, I’ve been lucky enough to hear “Buy Me A Condo” and “Midnight Star” live. I have yet to experience the majesty of “Mr. Popeil” in a live setting, but you better believe I’d give a lesser appendix to do so. (I assume the Lady Diana/Prince Charles ditty “Buckingham Blues” has been rightly filed away in Al’s “Never Play Again” folder.)
Al and his then-new band (Jim West, Stephen Jay, Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz) sound fantastic in the ’84 recording, and they still sound fantastic today. Also on-point both then and now: Al’s between-song banter. Back in ’84, a rowdy Summerfest crowd was treated to:
• Al introducing “Buckingham Blues” with a shout-out to his great-grandfather, “the legendary blues master himself, Blind Lemon Yankovic”
• Al introducing “Buy Me A Condo” with a shout-out to his cousin, “Rastaman Bob Yankovic”
• Not one, but two “drum solos” from Schwartz
• A “guitar solo” from West
• A “bass solo” from Jay that’s pretty much the bass line from “Louie Louie”
• A “Guess the color of Al’s underwear” game. (Answer: red.)
• Random screaming
If the internet is to believed (and why would it lie?), Al also played Summerfest in 1983. That set was a weird (ha) amalgamation of tunes from his ’83 self-titled debut (“My Bologna,” “Another One Rides The Bus”), songs that would eventually appear on 1985’s Dare To Be Stupid (“Yoda”), and a bat-shit crazy “food medley” featuring a bunch of bite-sized, unreleased parodies I never knew Al attempted. (“Feel Like Makin’ Love” becomes “Feel Like Making Lunch”; “We Got The Beat” becomes “We Got The Beef.”) It’s like Conan O’Brien once said to Al: “It’s not you, it’s God speaking through you.”
But back to ’84. Who else played Summerfest that Orwellian year? There were some already-veteran acts like The Moody Blues, John Denver, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Chubby Checker, but there were also plenty of up-and-comers like R.E.M., INXS, The Go-Go’s, Huey Lewis And The News, and, yes, “Weird Al” Yankovic. (Did Milwaukee’s own Violent Femmes play Summerfest ’84? Of course they did.) It’s wild to think of these latter acts as “up-and-coming,” but that’s the cruel passage of time for you.
Happily, Weird Al persists. Weird Al is eternal. The music of Weird Al will live forever, delighting young and old alike, lightly lampooning both food and television shows. If only we could figure out why he didn’t play “Eat It” at Summerfest ’84.
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