Weird Al Yankovic is a comedy legend. He released his first parody song in 1976, and has been steadily at it ever since. Far from being mainstream, people claim not to know who he is and yet all seem to know a handful of his breakthrough songs. And whilst touring nearly consistently as well, he seldom leaves the USA. I was lucky enough to see him during his first trip to Australia in 2003, and on Monday night I had the privilege of watching his first ever concert in London, at HMV Forum at Kentish Town.
After a confusing series of emails and enquiries about what had happened to my presale tickets, and then reading some frankly alarming tweets about the size of the queue, I managed to sideslip the queue and get myself a downstairs position fairly close to the front. Certainly not as close as our 3rd row seats at the Thebarton Theatre gig of ’03, but still not bad. The gig kicked off with a bit of a stagger: the opening music stopping abruptly then restarting, Al & band taking the stage, and shouting “DRUM SOLO!”. Chaotic, absurd, and not at all out of place. Kicking off with Frank’s 2000 Inch TV seemed a strange place to start, but the crowd of Al fans clearly knew it (having had since Alapalooza’s release in 1993 to learn it). The segue into the ballad You Don’t Love Me Anymore was equally sporadic, featuring another drum solo, and Al’s voice giving the impression that he might have a cold. Still, the song was as beautiful and poignant as ever, and concluded with a proper rockstar guitar smash.
Something I can’t believe I’d completely forgotten from the last gig was that every song or 2 is hot-fingered with video clips on the big screen, re-living/celebrating some of Al’s appearances in popular media (The Simpsons, The Flintstones, feature films, and nearly every chat show you can care to name), along with his Al TV parodies of MTV interviews: always silly, but rarely subtle, I find in that format he has a tendency to oversell a joke a little. Still, I thought it was a nice touch to see Al “interviewing” Robert Plant on screen at Kentish Town, where I’d seen Robert Plant and the Band Of Joy just a short while ago.
It would be interesting to see how Al and the band build a set list – doing his breakthrough hits seem like a bit of a no-brainer, for instance Smells Like Nirvana, the sublime grunge parody which featured next (incl. violent gargling sequence). Other slightly odder inclusions were “Skipper Dan” (a more recent song about a qualified actor working on a theme park ride), and later on, Whatever You Like.
Again, it seems a bit odd to have sections of an artist’s songs played at you on video screen over a black stage, but what any Al gig loses on this front it more than makes up for with the costume changes – I think I counted over a dozen in this show, and when Al took stage again he gave us his James Blunt parody, You’re Pitiful, then followed with extremely silly Devo worshipping piece Dare To Be Stupid.
I didn’t really know the song about Charles Nelson Reilly, because it too (like Skipper Dan and Whatever You Like) was from the Internet Leaks EP which I’ve not yet bought (plus didn’t hit my radar as I’m not a massive White Stripes enthusiast), however his wholehearted and enthusiastic leap into Canadian Idiot got me caught back up in things quickly enough. My jaw dropped in envy at Al’s next wardrobe choice – a black & red zebra print suit, for Wanna B Ur Lovr, during which he left the stage and went amongst the audience (captured quite nicely by Tom Scott, the erstwhile piratical electoral candidate and geek of high renown) to sing his collection of incredibly cheesy pickup lines.
The gig zipped back and forth through the 80’s, 90’s and noughties, with the next one off the playlist being the Dire Straits parody from Al’s film, UHF (or for some reason as it was titled in Australia, The Vidiot From UHF), Money For Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve watched that film since its 1989 release, but the number is a) significant, and b) miniscule compared to the number of times Al must have played it.
Moving on apace we got Ode To A Superhero, Eat It, Jurassic Park, Another One Rides The Bus, Gump, Bedrock Anthem, a truncated Stuck In The Drive Thru, Craigslist, and then the crowd went ballistic for the Bad Hair Day’s cover track, Amish Paradise – a song which not only made a lot of my contemporaries pretend that they were into gangsta rap, but also had the faintest idea what Amish people were. One chap slightly further back from me had obviously adopted the song as a personal anthem, as he’d come dressed in what you could only describe as an Amish costume.
If the massive video screen and costume changes weren’t enough by way of whizzy gizmo’s to look at, Al kicked it into gear with another rap parody, White & Nerdy, taking stage on a Segway. Man, are those things hard to photograph.
As the near-compulsory pre-finale finale production number, Al reached back into the wellspring of Michael Jackson covers to perform his 1988 smash hit Fat, clad in implausible yet extremely craftily done fat suit, to a screamingly appreciative crowd.
Returning inevitably for the encore (be it inevitable from a concert staging, or a crowd appreciation point of view) the band were joined by a small garrison of stormtroopers and Darth Vader, to finish us off with the Don McLean tweaked masterpiece, The Saga Begins – the amazingly constructed retelling of the plot of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, which Al pieced together from internet chatroom rumours and released before the film’s premiere screening, with prophetic accuracy.
And finally, bizarrely, The Kinks’ Lola parody from 1985, also in a Star Wars-y vein, Yoda. Weirdly, I don’t recall Al singing this in 2003, however seems that it’s been a finale mainstay for quite some time, and has been augmented by an increasingly ornate sort of chant thing that Al & the band break into, not entirely unreminiscent of The Mighty Boosh’s “crimps”.
In summary, a strange gig indeed. Given that the one in 2003 was partially to promote the release of Poodle Hat it makes sense that there were more songs off that album on the bill, but still, I think the gig would’ve easily stormed into LEGENDARYness if he’d pulled out Hardware Store, or Genius In France, or perhaps even Albuquerque? Although I can see where you might leave an 11 minute song off your list if you’re not sure how the crowd’ll be. One this that seemed odd by its absence though was any sort of polka medley. Or the genius of Bob. Argh. So many amazing songs to pick from!!
One thing is for sure – Al remains a dedicated performer who gives it all and is grateful to his audience & fans, and that shows in the generosity of his performance. And if I ever get a chance to meet him, I’m gonna say, “Thanks Al”.
If you were at all interested in seeing the rest of the photos I took at the gig, you would need to look at my Flickr set.