Welcome to Milwaukee Record’s Weird Al Week, sponsored by Lakefront Brewery! Want daily Al-related articles culminating in a recap of Al’s May 24 show at the Marcus Performing Arts Center? You’re in the right place! Oh, and because this is our third Weird Al Week, we’re calling it Weird Al Week (In 3-D)! You know, like the album!
The response to “Weird Al” Yankovic‘s 2018 tour was a major success according to almost anyone who could possibly care. The idea behind the “Ridiculously Ill-Advised, Self-Indulgent Vanity Tour” was simple: instead of playing all his best-known parodies, changing his outfit every few songs, flanked by huge video screens and all the other visual madness one might expect from a shamelessly dorky lampooner of pop culture, why not do the exact opposite of all that? It was a win for longtime fans, who had a chance to see tons of deep cuts Yankovic had rarely if ever played live before, and it was a win for Al and his longtime band, who were freed from their usual tightly scripted formula and got to stretch out and show people how great they were without all the distractions. At the tour closer in Green Bay, Al remarked upon how much fun they’d had, and that maybe they’d do this again some day.
“Some day” came along without much delay, especially considering that whole 2020-21 stretch when few indoor tours even got off the ground. The “Unfortunate Return” of the aforementioned unwieldily titled tour kicked off last month, and fans were eager to see what other rarities might be dusted off for this tour. After all, unbeknownst to the world at large, the Yankovic catalog boasts literally dozens of songs whose royalties he doesn’t have to share with anyone, and lots of those never appeared on a setlist in 2018. The possibilities were endless.
The tour had hit a not-exactly-unpredictable bump after only 16 dates: Al tested positive for COVID-19, forcing a week’s worth of cancelled or postponed shows. Tuesday night’s show at the Marcus Performing Arts Center marked the first show back, and it opened with the Yankovic band performing the instrumental “Fun Zone” from the UHF soundtrack. The strange thing was, there were two empty stools at the front of the stage. One was for Al, who emerged as the song hit its finale. The other was for guitarist Jim “Kimo” West, who had also contracted COVID and was still testing positive. So who was playing guitar on this opening song? Why, West himself, from backstage, where he would remain for the entire show, audible and in sync and seemingly in fine spirits despite not being seen.
Is Weird Al the first rock/pop artist to play Uihlein Hall? Because it’s a heck of a nice setting, at least for a sit-down show; the sound was good and the relatively pared-down light show was plenty effective, as if Al’s eyebrows weren’t theatrical enough all by themselves. Even without video or costumes, the show was a full sensory overload with plenty of interludes for unassuming Yankovic banter. A few of the frontman’s gags may have been recycled from past tours, but overall he was loose and relaxed and extremely grateful to be up there after a week off. He even gave Bob Dylan a birthday shout-out with the conveniently titled “Bob,” a Dylan sendup composed entirely of lyrical palindromes—including an unintentional shout-out to local heroes IfIHadAHiFi, whoops!
Other surprises? The second song of the night was “Lame Claim To Fame,” which turned out to be the only song of the set that they didn’t play in Milwaukee in 2018. Thus far this year, set lists haven’t varied as much as four years ago, and aging nerds hoping for more ’80s rarities may be forever dismayed. Some of those songs are probably too sophomoric even for Al, still looking incredibly young for 62 but probably past the threshold for booger-joke lyrics. Furthermore, a growing number of Al’s songs, though never ill-intentioned, have become slightly problematic as times and terminologies have changed, as evidenced by the otherwise rousing set-closer “Albuquerque.” After uttering a lyric about a “hermaphrodite,” Yankovic stopped the song dead in order to explain and apologize for using the term. It’s not by any means a new tactic, and it would grow tedious if he had to do this numerous times throughout the night, but at least he’s trying, and for a tour like this, leaving “Albuquerque” off the table would be unthinkable.
Other highlights included another novel take on perhaps his best-loved original, “Dare To Be Stupid,” a lounge-lizard variation replacing 2018’s Grateful Dead-style arrangement. It was one of a few mellow interludes, as the guys were apparently eager to rock out as hard as a comedy band is liable to do, playing most of their harder-edged songs (“Nature Trail To Hell,” “When I Was Your Age,” “I’ll Sue Ya,” “CNR,” to name a few) and gaining strength as the night wore on. Few in the crowd could’ve been prepared for this rendition of the Doors-mocking “Craigslist,” which showcased Al’s full-throttle Jim Morrison impression in a wide-ranging psychedelic ramble that got so intense one might’ve almost feared profanity escaping his lips at any moment. (Okay, not really.)
Following the delightfully epic rendition of “Albuquerque,” Yankovic pretended to go offstage and return for an encore, which again on this tour features a different cover song in every city. Wednesday’s was a no-brainer: the Violent Femmes’ “Blister In The Sun,” perhaps one of Al’s most risqué picks ever and performed with obvious love and respect for the original. Also in keeping with the tradition of the “Vanity Tour” mode, the band then played a lounge-y medley of parody faves, capped with “Yoda.” Sandwiched inside “Yoda” was the preposterous full-band a capella extravaganza of chants and moans and howls and faux-scats that will blow your mind no matter how many times you’ve seen them do it.
The show was every bit as solid as any previous Milwaukee stop, but it didn’t have much to offer beyond what fans have already seen from this band, which presumably is not getting any younger. There was an undeniable sense that we were probably witnessing a final victory lap for the stripped-down Weird Al band, with the possibility of further big-spectacle Al tours seeming even more remote. This is a must-see tour for everyone who heard about the original “Vanity Tour” and kicked themselves for missing out, not to mention anyone who’s never seen Al before. Contrary to popular belief, he is more musician than comedian, and if you haven’t experienced what this band can do in the raw, and you pass up this chance, you’ll probably never believe it.
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• A Weird Al album ranking that totally betrays the age of the author, and that’s it
• 7 things we want to see in the upcoming Weird Al biopic
• Childhood, change, and growing a Weird Al Chia Pet for 14 days
• 13 pictures from our sold-out ‘UHF’ screening and Twinkie Wiener Sandwich afterparty
• Weird Al Week (In 3-D) begins with a chat with Weird Al drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz
• “Weird Al” Yankovic is coming to Marcus Performing Arts Center on May 24