Vicar Street, Dublin
Weird ‘Al’ Yankovic doesn’t really make sense. A parody artist, whose satirical swipes at popular culture have mostly revolved around food, who has somehow not only managed to survive over 30 years in the business and score a number 1 album on the billboard charts, but has also been a constant presence in a plethora of cultural touchstones. Although he is mostly a fringe player or is the butt of a joke. How has someone like Al managed to survived longer than probably 80% of the groups he has pastiched? If last night’s performance in Vicar Street can be used as any kind of proof, it’s pretty clear why. Inconceivable as it may seem, Weird Al’s Mandatory Tour might well be one of the most truly enjoyable and magical shows to hit Dublin this year.
Kicking off with a montage of various cultural nuggets ranging from 50s B-Movies, tv adverts for Slinkies to Evil Dead 2, the show sets its tone very clearly: we’re here to look at all these disparate sources and extract as much fun as physically possible. The crowd responds well with cheers emanating from a multitude of pockets of people as they recognize clips they know and love. Needless to say, Evil Dead 2 gets a rather sizable cheer. When the montage concludes, the band, sans Al; take the stage and blast into a version of ‘Tacky’ from their latest LP. Al suddenly appears on the screen behind them, standing outside in the chilling Dublin October, looking like the 1970s threw up on him; and starts singing along. A camera crew follows him as he works his way from outside the venue, through the backstage and eventually straight into the pit, all while never missing a beat. Slinking onto the stage he concludes the song and the show is ready to begin.
Over the next two hours the crowd is treated to ‘hit’ after ‘hit’ including the likes of ‘Foil’, ‘Amish Paradise’, ‘Smells Like Nirvana’, ‘White and Nerdy’ and a pulsating and powerful Polka medley including ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, ‘Wrecking Ball’ and ‘Pumped Up Kicks’. Each of the songs are immaculately performed, often times better than the original performers can muster. The group find some rather clever ways to invigorate some of the older hits, the best of which is an MTV Unplugged/late Eagles like performance of ‘Eat It’ and ‘Like A Surgeon’ which are both improved by this folky interpretation. As styles, decades and genres change, so do the band; bouncing between a frankly ridiculous number of costumes ranging from Lady Gaga trashion, spot on Devo uniforms, grunge chic, Eagles MOR and a massive fat suit. These changes are made all the more impressive by the speed in which their performed and how the group get around having massive lulls in the stage times. Rather than trying to sustain awkward stage banter while the rest of the band get changed, we’re instead treated to a montage of different Al clips from throughout the years. There are nuggets from his directorial debut UHF, his mock interviews with the likes of Eminem and R.E.M and a menagerie of clips from the wide arrays of TV shows that he has appeared in and been referenced by. It’s a clever and funny way to get around the problem while, probably unintentionally, subtly reminding the audience just how osmotic of presence he is. Looking at the crowd, it is pretty evident just how far Yankovic’s influence has spread.
Everyone in the room seems absolutely pumped and ready for the show, hanging on every word and command that comes from Al’s lips. When he wants them to mosh, they tear the place down; when he wants them to laugh, they’re falling on the floor with laughter and when he asks them to get their phones out, they nearly illuminate the room. For everything the crowd gives, the band give back in kind. They’re undeniably flawless, musically dexterous and perfectly co-ordinated. Their dance moves are magnificently choreographed and their vocal interplay, particularly in the breakdown of ‘Yoda’, is nothing short of jaw dropping. In fact were it not for an unfortunate dip in the second of the night’s medleys, this would probably be the single best show to hit Dublin in a very long time. Even with that, it’s still a truly magical night; deeply hilarious, intensely charming and frantically compelling. Will Murphy
Vicar Street photos by Aaron Corr
Limelight 1, Belfast
Around half an hour before Weird Al Yankovic is due on stage, the Limelight is awash with murmurs that ‘the start of the show is not to be missed’, and that ‘something a bit special is gonna happen’. Personally I take most claims of things being ‘a bit special’ (a boke-inducing phrase, I might add) with a massive pinch of salt, but this isn’t most things. This is the curly-headed Californian clown-prince of comedy, whose unique brand of parody music has been capturing hearts the world over since 1980. Ergo, if something special is happening, I ain’t missing it. So pints are sunk, and shoes are dutifully shuffled into the venue.
And what a packed venue it is, demonstrating the diverse appeal of Al (if, to use a Simon-ism, I can call him Al). Metalheads to the left of me, indie kids to the right, and here I am stuck in the middle with what feels like a billion other people from all walks of life all brought together by the healing power of comedy parody music.
So yes, back to that special thing at the start of the show. Now, bear with me as I try to describe exactly what went down, and if you’re planning on catching the Weird one later on his tour and want this review spoiler free you might want to skip the next paragraph or two. First up, a picture of a fairly quiet looking street is projected onto a huge screen which dominates the back of the stage. Wait a minute, I know that street… that’s THIS street! In fact, it’s right outside the Limelight.
Just as these cogs are beginning to slowly turn, the band – minus Al – take to the stage. No sooner have they launched into ‘Tacky’ (a recent funnied up version of Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’) than the funnyman’s fizzog fills the screen. What follows is a tracking shot that would leave Scorsese shaking in his boots, as Al sings … hang on, this needs caps lock… AS AL SINGS THE TRACK FROM OUTSIDE THE VENUE, DANCING HIS WAY DOWN ORMEAU AVENUE, FIST-BUMPING AND HI-FIVING PASSERS BY THE ENTIRE TIME BEFORE ENDING THE SONG ON THE STAGE. Now I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen this done before, and it leaves my jaw on the floor. Sure it’s kinda gimmicky, but if there’s one thing Weird Al wears extremely well it is gimmick. Well, that and the technicolor coat that he’s sporting.
Actually he doesn’t sport that coat for long, because the next two hours are rife with costume changes – from human aubergine, to shade-sporting CIA G-man to Emperor Palpatine a smorgasbord of outfits get a rattle. This is but one example of Weird Al’s boundless enthusiasm, which is really the key to what keeps tonight’s show going – goodness knows what kind of Faustian pact he must have made to have such limitless energy.
But what about the music I hear you cry? This is after all a gig, no matter how unorthodox it may be. Well, it’s awesome. Or as awesome as this sort of thing can really be – the band are effectively a covers act, but they’re a really good one; highly professional, super tight, and the perfect foil to Al’s distinctively silly vocal twang and onstage antics. Granted his delivery isn’t for everyone, but that could be said of all of his output.
Most importantly though, it’s stupendously funny. Countless fan favourites get wheeled out, including Michael Jackson cover ‘Eat It’ (during which Al sports a gloriously un-PC fat suit and massive prosthetic chin), as well as Like A Surgeon, White And Nerdy and many other similarly pun-tastic treats, all of which delight the giddy audience. During ‘Amish Paradise’ (a riff on Coolio’s ‘94 study on gangsta life), the line ‘as I walk through the valley where I harvest my grain / I take a look at my wife and realise she’s very plain’ leaves me doubled over laughing.
A lot happens over the two hour show, far too much to cram in here, but believe me when I say it is a thrill-ride from start to finish. A feast for all the senses (well, two of them) the performance is absurd and surreal without ever resorting to ‘random’ (more boke) non-sequiturs for laughs. And as grandiose as it may sound when referring to a man who is basically a professional piss-taker, nobody skewers American contemporary culture quite like Weird Al. The jokes are silly, yes, but they’re really sharp and the newest songs are right up to date with their references to nerd culture and internet memedom. Al has clearly kept up with the times and it never feels false or forced – it’s just who he is and I guess that’s why he has stayed relevant for 35 years.
Tonight is a masterclass in not only musical comedy but also dedication to putting on not just a gig but an honest to God show. If you have a chance to catch Weird Al, do it. As the man himself suggests, dare to be stupid. Peter McCaughan