“Weird Al” Yankovic Plays His Weirdest-Ever Indy Show
Of all the weird things about “Weird Al” Yankovic, this may be the weirdest: While Coolio, Huey Lewis, and Michael Jackson really only had to worry about sounding like themselves, Weird Al and his criminally under-heralded band have to worry about sounding like The Collective Whole of 35 Years of American Pop Culture, plus Don McLean and Bob Dylan sometimes. There’s being diverse and then there’s being profoundly insane: I’ve never been in a band, but I imagine playing a set list that includes Chamillionaire, Madonna, an iconic grunge song, and a runaway polka is tougher than it looks, much like writing parody in the first place.
One guesses this was part of the drive behind Yankovic’s brilliant “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour,” which jam-packed the Palladium on Thursday night despite a preemptive barrage of reminders that humanity’s most iconic musical parodist—a guy whose name is synonymous with basically anything that contains some singing and is funny—would not be doing much of that.
Rather, this was a show of his originals, the songs between the parodies, the ones—as the T-shirts joked—“that you skip over.” (If the phrase “Gonna sell me Bob Marley records, gonna get me some Jackson Browne” means nothing to you, you should probably just click over to the Swoon List.) As such, Yankovic went waaaaay out of his way to manage expectations: The title is a kidding-on-the-square gag, the T-shirts jokingly proclaim “No refunds!” and he introduced about a half-dozen songs by reflecting on their deep unpopularity. (“She Never Told Me She Was a Mime” generally winds up on internet lists of his least-requested songs, he said, right before playing “She Never Told Me She Was a Mime.”) His last stops in Indy featured video screens, two dozen costume changes, and the 501st Legion of costumed Stormtroopers; this one found him and his band seated unplugged-style in the Palladium’s elegant confines.
Managing expectations was probably a good idea—if you knew “White and Nerdy” and the fat suit, you might have been like, “uh.” But it had the satisfying effect of throwing the spotlights off the costumes and onto the songwriting—which, presented in this stark light, looked fantastic—and his longtime, enduring, no-band-is-together-this-long band: nearly 40-year compatriot Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz on drums, PBS composer and three-time Peabody Award– winner Steve Jay on bass, composer and slack key master Jim West on guitar, and Ruben Valtierra, who also leads a Latin jazz orchestra, on keys.
And if you were a fan who knows what 27 is about and the backwards-masked message on “Nature Trail to Hell,” this was two hours of fanboy delirium. There was “Bob,” a riff on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” that’s built entirely of lyrical palindromes and doesn’t make much less sense; “My Baby’s In Love with Eddie Vedder,” a zydeco number that lands some gentle punches about Vedder’s then-legendary grumpery (“Like he’s some big tortured genius and I’m some kind of wiener”); and “Midnight Star,” which Yankovic claimed to push as the first single from “In 3-D” before the record company convinced him that the Michael Jackson parody about food might be a better move.
Want more? “One of Those Days” from “Polka Party!” which, interestingly, is edited on inflight audio services to remove the line “A 747 crashed into my den”; the title track to “UHF,” a pop-metal banger with a riff like basically all of 1989 hair metal; “Dare to Be Stupid,” introduced as Al’s favorite song from “Terrapin Station” and played as a Grateful Dead number—well.
And that’s the thing—the band nails these all, dipping from a White Stripes–style song about Charles Nelson Reilly to “Vedder” zydeco to “Buy Me a Condo” reggae without making the slightest fuss about it. It’s kind of incredible. What’s more, they’ve been playing a straight-up cover every night, everything from “China Grove” to “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” to “Free Bird”—actual “Free Bird”! Ours was “Rebel Yell,” and I’ll be damned if he didn’t crush it. This is a band of pathological diversity, and while I’m all in on the fat-suit and Stormtrooper shows, it was a blast to see.
I keep saying “almost entirely” parodies, because he does leave room for a medley of Al-bangers, recast for the setting: “Eat It” as Clapton-unplugged “Layla”, “Amish Paradise” as a bossa nova number, and “Like a Surgeon” as an old-timey showtune. And he closed with the “American Pie” parody “The Saga Begins,” for the fans in the Star Wars shirts. Honestly, it’s a little package clinic on how he’s maintained sustainability for 35 (!!) years, how he’s sailed through ’80s fizz and grunge and cookie-monster metal and pop-rap, through the era of gratuitous music-stealing (his references to Limewire and Kazaa in the “We Are the World”–style “Don’t Download This Song” are pleasingly dated) and YouTube and emerged more popular in 2018 than ever. This tour, he’s said, is his favorite that he’s played, and the thanks he gave for the sold-out house was genuine. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” he joked, not joking, “but the music industry has been in free-fall for a few decades.” And yet here he is, still doing what he wants, still giving the people what they want.
“Weird Al” Yankovic’s Setlist
“Close but No Cigar”
“Buy Me a Condo”
“Good Enough For Now”
“My Baby’s In Love With Eddie Vedder”
“Dare to Be Stupid” (Grateful Dead version)
“One of Those Days”’
“If That Isn’t Love”
“Don’t Download This Song”
“She Never Told Me She Was a Mime”
“Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me”
Medley: “Eat It”/”I Lost on Jeopardy”/”Amish Paradise”/”Smells Like Nirvana”/”White and Nerdy”/”I Love Rocky Road”/”Like a Surgeon”
“Rebel Yell” (Billy Idol cover)
“The Saga Begins”