The thing about a Weird Al show is that the format is always the same. Lots of costume changes. Lots of video clips between songs to accommodate the costume changes. A bunch of songs off the newest album and lots of his classics - hey, he paid for that fat suit, may as well get as much use out of it as he can. And it ends with Yoda. There's a chant in Yoda. It gets longer with every tour.
Understand, I'm not complaining. Just making an observation. There were eleven years between my first and second Al concerts, and even with that gap, that second show felt pretty familiar. You get some new songs, costumes, sets, and videos every time out, but still.
If this was a little samey for me, one wonders what it would be like for Al and his band. The theatrics and the choreography, while fun, mean that his show is heavily scripted and there isn't room for improvisation or mixing things up. There's no opportunity to say "screw it, let's play Running With Scissors front-to-back tonight." It's pretty much set in stone.
A while back, I read an interview where Al talked of doing a different kind of tour, one geared toward hardcore fans. Smaller venues, no costumes or videos, and - the biggest change - he'd forego his famous parodies in favour of playing his lesser-known original songs. A different setlist every night, even. This was extremely my thing. I didn't think it would actually happen, but sure enough, last fall, Al announced the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour. While I was definitely prepared to travel for this, instead, he was coming here. What a groovy guy! Now I just had to wait the eight months for the tour to get here.
Having experienced the VIP... uh... experience the last time out, Mika and I got normal seats this time like god damned commoners. We went to the show with Jason (from my work) and his wife Melissa - you may remember them from at least one previous concert (Corb Lund) that we went to (translation: I totally invited myself along to their night out). Lots of parenthetical asides in this paragraph but they're all very important to give you the full story.
Before the show, Jason said he was hoping for Trigger Happy and The Night Santa Went Crazy (the extra-gory version) (obviously). My picks were The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, Stop Forwarding that Crap to Me, and Skipper Dan. Looking at setlists from other cities, I knew at least some of these were in play. I wasn't about to get my hopes up, though.
We got to the show and I took a quick look at the stuff table. Nothing too exciting. The usual shirts and stuff. There were some enamel pins that were nice but expensive and I'd never wear them anyway. I also saw something that indicated that all of the concerts from this tour were going to be made available on Stitcher Premium, a for-pay podcast service. Took a peek and didn't see anything yet. If this does come to pass, I'd give it a shot.
Long ago, Al used to have local comedians opening for him. I only ever saw this once, at my first Al show in 1996. I don't remember much about the comedian. He worked clean, albeit with a lot of poop jokes. And hockey jokes. And he combined them to make Darren Puppa jokes. Again, it was 1996. Shortly thereafter - and probably having nothing to do with the guy who opened at my show - Al quit having opening acts. He found it hard to vet the comedians, so sometimes the opener would wind up using material that was inappropriate for the audience. Plus, as Al's show became more elaborate, it also became longer, making an opener feel less necessary. But for this tour, he was bringing an opener with him - Emo Philips. Philips is best known to Al fans as the shop teacher who accidentally saws his fingers off in the movie UHF. Or at least best known to me for that - I hadn't heard any of his actual stand-up before this. Turns out his delivery is actually quite similar to that of his UHF character, soft-spoken and stilted. I can see some people not being into that, though I thought he was pretty funny. He worked clean and mostly told one-liners - "I like to play chess with old men in the park, but where do you ever find 32 of them?" - with a few physical bits thrown in too. The crowd seemed to really like him, though there was one pun that didn't get nearly enough love and one aside I loved that went completely unrecognized. So it goes.
Following a brief break, Al's band entered and played the instrumental tune Fun Zone before Al entered and launched right into Close but no Cigar (with Al playing what I can only call the rattly percussion thing). We wound up with a 19-song set spanning Al's entire career. There were classics (You Don't Love Me Anymore), songs I'd entirely forgotten (I Remember Larry), and songs that would maybe be best forgotten (Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung). Buy Me A Condo stood out as particularly dated, both because I'm pretty sure a white guy trying to sound Jamaican wouldn't fly today and, more so, it suggests that "wall-to-wall carpeting" is a status symbol instead of something to rip out.
There were also some of Al's soundalike style parodies, like the Dylanesque all-palindrome song Bob and the I-didn't-realize-it-was-supposed-to-sound-like-the-B-52s-but-in-my-defence-I-was-very-young-when-I-first-heard-it Mr. Popeil. And, what with it being June and all, they played Al's entire catalogue of Christmas songs - both of them. And yes, it was the extra-gory version of The Night Santa Went Crazy, so I've now heard a theatre full of nerds cheer at the announcement that Santa Claus has been caught and compromised to a permanent end.
During the more energetic songs, there was one guy who'd jump out of his seat, run up to the front at the far edge of the stage, and, indeed, dance like no one was watching. I don't know how one cultivates the attitude of "yes, I will be the only person at this whole concert dancing wildly to Party at the Leper Colony." Maybe you have to be born with it? I don't know. But I feel like maybe it's something to aspire to. Not that particular song - even Al said he wasn't proud of it - but the general idea. I think that dude probably had more fun at this show than the rest of us. And he was even considerate enough to not block anyone's view.
For the encore, Al asked for requests and everyone went nuts. He finally decided that he'd choose one person and play whatever they wanted - so of course, he picked his guitarist, who wanted to hear some Black Crowes, so that's what they played. Every night on this tour, they've been playing a different cover song. Not a parody - just a straight cover. Ours was Hard to Handle. Looking at some others they've played recently (including Rebel Rebel, Magic Carpet Ride, Summer Nights, All Right Now, Aqualung, Foxey Lady, and Good Lovin'), I'm very pleased with the one we got - it would have been my pick out of all of those. I suspect Al had a cheat sheet for the lyrics - he seemed to spend a lot of time looking at something that wasn't the crowd - but maybe I was just seeing things that weren't there. Either way, it didn't hurt things any if he did.
People who really wanted the parodies weren't entirely out of luck. For the last song before the encore, the band started into the unplugged version of Layla, but Al sang Eat It instead. This kicked off a medley of some of his most famous parodies, all with new incongruous arrangements. And after Hard to Handle, they finished with his American Pie parody, The Saga Begins. Always gotta end with Star Wars - though as different as this whole show was, not ending with Yoda and the chant still stuck out.
Here's the whole setlist, taken from setlist.fm in a rare case where I don't have to complain about how wrong it is:
Fun Zone Close But No Cigar Bob Buy Me a Condo Christmas at Ground Zero Good Enough for Now I Remember Larry If That Isn't Love Airline Amy You Don't Love Me Anymore I Was Only Kidding The Night Santa Went Crazy (extra-gory version) Party at the Leper Colony Mr. Popeil Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung Jackson Park Express medley: Eat It / I Lost on Jeopardy / Amish Paradise / Smells Like Nirvana / White & Nerdy / I Love Rocky Road / Like a Surgeon --encore-- Hard to Handle (Black Crowes cover) The Saga Begins
As we left, Mika asked if I got to hear all the songs I wanted. Honestly, I didn't - I went 0-for-3 with my wishlist. So I definitely would have changed the songs up if given the chance, but I still was glad with what we got and happy just to see a show on this tour at all. I got a new appreciation for some songs I'd overlooked or forgotten, and do I even need to mention that Al and his band were great? (I pretend that these are "reviews," so I guess, yeah.) They're all super talented and complete professionals, switching seemingly effortlessly between musical genres from song to song. I suppose you don't have a celebrated 40-year career without working hard and being good at your job. Good thing I'm fine with an uncelebrated one.
UPCOMING CONCERTS: • BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15) • The Flaming Lips w/Wand (June 22) • Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, Steven Page, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, more (July 28) • Arkells (August 2) • Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11) • Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12) • The Fred Eaglesmith Show Starring Tif Ginn (September 23) • Cadence Weapon w/Fat Tony and Hua Li (October 2) • Crash Test Dummies (October 11) • They Might Be Giants (October 20) • Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)