Hey! Welcome to Weird Al Week! For the next seven weekdays, Milwaukee Record will be filling your feed with fresh, funny, and slightly fanatical Al-related materiel. It all leads up to the two Weird Al shows at Pabst Theater April 9 and 10, as well as a performance from longtime Al band members Steve Jay and Jim West at Shank Hall April 11. Fun!
“Weird Al” Yankovic needs no introduction, but his latest tour kinda-sorta does. The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour breaks from past Weird Al tours by focusing (almost) entirely on non-parody and original “style parody” material. It eschews hits like “Eat It” and “Amish Paradise” and instead unearths deep cuts like “Melanie” and “The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota.” What’s more, Yankovic’s typical costume- and video-heavy stage shows have been transformed into loose and spontaneous sit-down affairs, with the focus on the master parodist and his longtime band. It’s the kind of thing diehard Weird Al fans have been dreaming of for decades.
Before a pair of shows at Pabst Theater April 9 and 10 (the April 10 show is sold out), Milwaukee Record spoke to Yankovic over the phone about the unorthodox nature of his latest tour, what songs were deemed too obscure, the genius of tour opener Emo Philips, and playing a Carpenters song at the Apollo.
Milwaukee Record: How has the tour been going so far? Is it everything you hoped for, or everything you feared?
“Weird Al” Yankovic: It’s really gone extremely well! I had a little bit of trepidation about it because it’s a very new kind of tour and I didn’t know how the fans were going to react. But we’re selling out virtually everywhere. The fans seem very enthusiastic about it. It’s geared towards a slightly different audience. A smaller, more hardcore, and/or selective audience. The people that are showing up hopefully know what they’re in for, but they all seem like they’re having a great time. The band and I are certainly having a great time. We’re having more fun on stage than we’ve had in a long time.
MR: What has it been like playing some of these songs live for the first time? It must be like Paul McCartney playing “A Hard Day’s Night” live for the first time in fifty years.
WAY: [laughs] Well, I wouldn’t presume to draw that kind of comparison, but it is strange! A lot of these songs that we’re playing, we haven’t performed on stage ever, and a lot of them we haven’t played since we originally played them in a studio back in the ’80s and ’90s. It was a big learning curve. We had to figure out how to actually do these songs in a live setting. It was a lot of work to get us up to speed. We learned over four hours’ worth of material, just on my own songs, not to mention all the cover songs that we’re learning. We’re doing a different cover song every single night. There’s just a lot of material that we’re learning, which keeps us on our toes. In a normal tour we have a set playlist, we do the same thing every night, and we kind of lapse into muscle memory. It becomes automatic. This tour doesn’t allow for that. We have to always be in the moment and be present, which is exciting for us, and I think also for the fans.
MR: Were there any songs that were deemed too obscure, or too difficult to play live?
WAY: There are some songs like “Gotta Boogie” that I just kind of felt didn’t deserve to be part of the tour. [laughs] And there are some songs which I would love to play, but they’re just technically too hard to pull off, like “Hardware Store,” which is another fan favorite. We try to find the sweet spot of songs that would be fun to play, and relatively easy to play, and that would also be fan favorites.
MR: Beyond the songs, the sit-down, no-frills production of the tour is a big change for you. Has it been the breath of fresh air you were hoping it would be?
WAY: It has been. In my normal tour, when I walk off the stage I’m drenched in sweat and I’ve given 100 percent of my energy. I like to do that, and I like to give fans everything I’ve got. But this is a nice change of pace, to walk off the stage and not be completely exhausted [laughs] and feel like I could do another show if I felt like it. It’s a different kind of vibe, it’s a different kind of energy. We self-deprecatingly call it a “low-energy” show, but it’s not really that. We all put a lot of energy into it, it’s just that I’m not running all over the stage. We’re all just pretty much on our spots and performing and giving it our all, but we’re not doing the full theatrics.
MR: You made big news a few weeks ago when you played your first-ever guitar solo, during a Neil Young cover. And then you also played a Carpenters cover? At the Apollo?
WAY: It’s sort of a surprise, but it’s pretty much out there now, so I guess I can say that every single night, for our first encore, we do a random cover song. We do a different song in every single city that we play in. We’re doing 77 shows, and we’re doing 77 different cover songs. We just work it up during soundcheck the day of the show, and we play it that night. It’s a lot of fun. Again, it’s just something to shake people out of their expectations and do something different that the band doesn’t normally get to do. It’s always nice to do something a little out of the ordinary and beyond people’s expectations.
MR: Even without the covers, you’ve said that no two shows on the tour will be the same. Have you guys been sticking to that?
WAY: Absolutely. We learned over four hours’ worth of material. The show is between 90 and 100 minutes every night, so that gives us room to really mix it up from night to night. In fact, in cities where we’re doing two shows, those two shows are completely different shows. If you go to any two shows on the tour you will definitely hear things you didn’t hear the night before.
MR: That’s great to hear, since you’re playing two shows in Milwaukee.
WAY: I should say that we do a medley…I hate to give away surprises…but we do a medley near the end of the show, and we do that in every single show. But everything else in the Milwaukee shows, and also the two Chicago shows, those will be completely different from night one to night two.
MR: Emo Philips is your opening act. What kind of energy has he been bringing to the tour?
WAY: It’s the best. I love Emo, he’s one of my oldest friends, and it was really a dream to be able to bring him on the road with me. This is the first time I’ve traveled with an opening act, and I couldn’t think of anybody that would be better or more appropriate for the tour than Emo. He’s killing it every night. He’s so funny, and fans love him. It just could not have been a better match. It’s a real joy every single night.
MR: We’re doing a full Weird Al Week at Milwaukee Record, which includes a sold-out screening of UHF and recaps of your shows. Is there anything you’d like to say to readers tuning in for this momentous event?
WAY: [laughs] Enjoy Weird Al Week! I know that I will! And, as always, I want to encourage you to floss your teeth, because dental hygiene is very important.