Monday, October 3, 2011

Weird Al At The Rymon

I ended the month of September with a terrific night in Nashville. On the last night of the month Paula and I took my son, Michael to the Rymon Auditorium to see Weird Al Yankovic in concert.

It was 25 years ago that I last saw Weird Al live. He was the opening act for the Monkees during their 20th anniversary tour back in 1987. So when Michael asked us for “an early Christmas present” we decided to go along with him. I was excited about seeing Al again.

We got to the Rymon Auditorium about 90 minutes early; parking about a block away. We were at the doors when they opened at 7 o’clock.

We made our way up to the 2nd floor where we could get to our balcony seats. Michael bought himself a “White & Nerdy” hoodie and a tour poster.

We found our seats, which were very good for balcony seats. We quickly discovered that the bench seating left a lot to be desired in regard to comfort and room. It got really crowded and uncomfortable when a couple who bought the 2 seats to Paula’s left came in just before the lights went down.

It was very crowded. Paula had to sit very close to me and I had to put my arm around her to be comfortable. As usually happens when sitting in an arranged seating area at a public venue we settled in a bit over the course of the concert but not very much.

As the audience filed in I noticed that it was a very diverse group. There were people of all ages. I’m talking about from kids under 10 to adults my age or older.

The show started about 20 minutes late and the crowd got rather impatient. They started doing the wave and then began to clap. It reminded me of the beginning of the concert scenes in the Blues Brothers movie.

Now this tour was to promote Al’s new album, Alpocalyse. He performed 7 of its songs. He had a different costume for every song. The time he was off stage changing was filled by a variety of video clips.

They were presented in a “channel surfing” format. Most of the clips were part of a fictional program called “Al TV.” It featured video clips of a wide variety of pop music stars splice together with video of Al asking questions to create a funny interview. It’s a comedy gimmick that is used by Jay Leno on the “Tonight Show” except Al’s bits were a lot funnier than any Leno’s ever done.

The videos also featured clips of Weird Al music videos and clips of real TV shows that refer to Weird Al in one way or another. The shows were both older and newer shows.
Al was mentioned by people ranging from Johnny Carson on the “Tonight Show” to Brad Garrett in the 2010 Fox sitcom, “Til Death”.

The one clip I liked the best was a fake movie trailer. A “bio pic” about Al’s stereotypical Hollywood train wreck career and life. Patton Oswald did a dead on impersonation of Dr. Demento in that trailer.

The video screen was also an active participant in song performances as well. I think Al uses video in a very effective way. It really connects with the generation of fans who grew up with him through MTV (back when the network actually played music videos).

The only problem I had with the concert was the stage lighting. There were a lot of lights aimed toward the audience. One of them on the right side of the stage was aimed right toward us. For the majority of the concert it made it difficult to see and almost impossible to take any good pictures. Now the light wasn’t on all the time but 75% of the time it was. So you had to time it just right to get a decent picture.

The first half of the concert was good but not very entertaining for me. The songs he sang were not my favorite style of music. His opening song was “Polka Face”, a song from the new album. It was a medley of recent pop songs set to a polka beat and played on Al’s accordion. Among the songs was Lady Antebellum’s “I Need You Now”.

After that song he spoke to the crowd for the first of four times during the night. He said the traditional “Hello Nashville!” Then he sang a parody of a Taylor Swift song about the TV entertainment show “TMZ”.

Even though I didn’t really care for the majority of the songs in the first half of the show; the videos and the anticipation of Al’s costume changes was entertaining enough to keep it enjoyable.

At one point in between songs he told the crowd how great it was for him to be at the Rymon Auditorium and how honored he was to be performing in the same place as Hoobastank; an obscure 90s pop music group; totally ignoring the venue’s rich country music heritage.

As I mentioned the audience was a very diverse age group. In addition to connecting with the MTV generation through the use of videos Al reached out to those in the baby boomers through a song called “CNR”. It’s a hyperbolas song about a super human version of Charles Nelson Riley, a flamboyant and very relatively popular actor and game show star in the 1970’s.

There was a song in the middle of the show where Al was dressed as a sleazy lounge singer who used every pick up line and innuendo in the world. He went out into the audience singing to various women in the seats on the auditorium floor. It was funny but we couldn’t see him for most of the song.

As the concert went on Al started doing a combination of some of my favorite “Weird Al” songs and some that I’d never heard before. Still I was familiar with the music so I enjoyed the parodies. The best example of this was a song about Spam to the tune of REM’s “Stand”. One of my favorite songs about one of my favorite foods (yes, I like Spam).

This was a very long concert for just one performer. There was no opening act. Given the many costume changes (the most elaborate was a giant blue peacock) and very physical performances Al must have been exhausted by the end of the night.

At about the 1 hour and 45 minute point of the concert Al went into a medley of a lot of his most popular hits. These included: Lasagna, My Bologna, Eat it, and more.

Before the last song the beginning of the music video his parody of Michael Jackson’s “Fat” was shown on the screen. The song is among my top 5 favorite Weird Al songs. After the video Al came out onto the stage in his “Fat” suit and sang the song

The audience was on their feet as the band left the stage. As is custom at concerts they applauded and cheered until Al came back for an encore.

I turned to Michael and asked him what he thought the encore song would be. He said he didn’t know because Al had done all of his big hits. In my mind there was only one that fit the unwritten criteria for an encore song: It was a fan favorite and hadn’t been performed yet.

When the house lights went down and the stage lights came back up. The crowd quieted down as Darth Vader and 6 Storm Troopers walked onto the stage. Al came out in a Jedi cloak. It was then I knew I was right about my encore prediction. It would be “The Saga Begins”; a parody about the movie “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”.

The crowd was really into the song. From the first chorus they sang along. The Storm Troopers were funny as they danced along on the fast parts and reacted with choreographed movements to the lyrics.

The applause erupted at the end of the song and there was more to come. The 2nd encore song was Al’s first Star Wars parody “Yoda”, based on the Kink’s hit “Lola.”

At one point he said “you sing” and pointed the microphone toward the audience. All of us sang the chorus. He then said, “now just you” and put the mic in front one audience member standing in front of the stage. I couldn’t see exactly who it was but he or she didn’t sing a word. Al tried a couple of times but the person wouldn’t sing. At that point he said “I guess we have to do the ‘refuse to participate’ chant”.

He and his fellow musicians began an a cappella chant. It’s tough to describe the chant. To me is seemed a little bit out of place. It’s described on Wikipedia as “mainly mnemonic syllables used by Indian tabla players” and also includes: a piece of the classic Hawaiian War Chant, and a few phrases from The Trashmen's "The Bird Is The Word." But my favorite part of the chant was a few lines from “Grim Grinning Ghosts”, a song from Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction.

After they finished the chant the crowd applauded and then Al finished “Yoda”, said “good night” and left the stage. There was another standing ovation, the lights came up and it was finally time to get up off the hard wooden seats and head for the exits.

There’s an old saying subscribed to by actors in the theater: “dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Al is very good at comedy. But underneath that silly comedic persona is a talented and hardworking musician/entertainer. Just the physical effort alone, required for his show is worthy of appreciation. But he’s a talented musician; he plays the accordion and guitar, the keyboard and harmonica.

His career “officially” began in 1976 while he was in still in high school, when one of his original songs was played on the Dr. Demento radio show. Now, 35 years later, there’s nothing in the entertainment business that Al Yankovic has not done. He’s a singer, songwriter, producer, screen writer, film director and more.

The fact that he’s still performing after all these years at such a high energetic, fast paced, entertaining level makes Weird Al Yankovic one of the best entertainers I’ve ever seen in concert. He’s also one of the most under appreciated.

As I mentioned to Michael before the concert started; Weird Al is the only one who is having any degree of success with parodies of popular songs these days. Other than short songs used on morning drive radio shows there’s no place parodies are heard anymore. The only other recent successful artist of this genre I can think of is country music comedian Cletus T. Judd. Does anyone remember his last album from 2 years ago? I sure don’t.

Being a fan of comedy songs I appreciate Weird Al being the cultural care taker of the novelty song alive in today’s world. Standing on the shoulders of artists such as Tom Lehrer, Stan Freberg, Alan Sherman, and Ray Stevens, Weird Al is the comedy voice in the pop music wilderness. I don’t know how much longer his journey will go on but I hope it ends at the Rock & Roll Music Hall of Fame. He deserves it.

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