"Weird Al" Yankovic at Celebrity Theatre Last Night

Weird Al
Celebrity Theatre, Phoenix
August 12, 2010

Last night, I went to a multimedia pop extravaganza: A virtual who's who of past and present Top-40 artists was represented, from Michael Jackson to the Biebs to Lady Gaga!

Except they weren't the ones singing. Weird Al was.

True to form, he opened his show with a polkafication of pop standards (Ke$ha's "Tik Tok," Kid Cudi's "Day 'n' Nite," and the aforementioned Gaga's "Poker Face," to name just a few in the medley) and the crowd -- diverse in age but all at least mildly fringe-y -- was hooked.

Weird Al has a knack for understanding what music we love, hate, and love to hate. Then he unapologetically and nerdily spoofs it, which speaks to the underdog in all of us. From the songs he parodies to the phenomena about which he's singing (cell phones, craigslist), he understands his audience, and is, in many ways, taking a stand against the musical "popular kids" by lampooning the likes of Britney Spears and Eminem.

Most of us have, at some point in our lives, had a Weird Al phase. Generally, this phase is when we're teenagers, at our radio-listening prime and our most physically and socially awkward, and his music is something parents have a hard time objecting to. I mean, come on, the man plays the accordion, doesn't swear, and sings about Star Wars. Hardly the corruptive musical influence parents are so cautious to protect their kids from. And to that end, many of the audience members were parents with elementary and middle school-aged children.

The last thing you'd expect from a Weird Al concert is to see more costume changes than your average pop starlet, but with nearly every new song (and there were around 30, including the parody medley), there was a new outfit to go with it, from a fat suit and prosthetic double chin to a smarmy, loudly-patterned leisure suit to a pink tutu and heart-print boxers. The most interesting piece of clothing he wore, however, was a shirt that read "Atlantic Records Still Sucks" worn during "You're Pitiful," his parody of James Blunt's "You're Beautiful." Back when that song was popular, Yankovic got the OK from Blunt to spoof the song, but after recording, Blunt's record label, Atlantic, revoked the permission. He agreed not to release the song on an album, but performs it at shows, wearing the shirt proudly.

Aside from the Atlantic Records shirt, Yankovic didn't say word one about his political leanings or the state of Arizona politics, a welcomed change from almost every other show performed in Arizona these days, where artists can't seem to shut their mouths about SB1070 long enough to sing. The only time he strayed from his meticulously timed and produced show was during "The Saga Begins," his Anakin Skywalker-themed "American Pie" parody, when he beckoned the crowd to sing along, then told "only the illegal aliens" to sing the repeat of the chorus. There was no "It's good to be in Phoenix; man it's hot here," or "How 'bout them (local sports team)?" The man was all (funny) business.

Frankly, there was no time in this show for exposition, since it was timed to the second. During his seamless costume changes, the audience was entertained by video interludes, including bizarre 50s-style hygiene films with offbeat messages (example: Wash your hands or a giant bar of soap will visit you in your sleep and you'll never be heard from again) and Al TV segments, which took footage from interviews with celebrities and cut them up to make it seem like Yankovic was doing the interviewing. For example, he asks Madonna who she hasn't slept with and shows her having difficulty answering, and he asks Jessica Simpson about her new puppy, to which she responds that she's going to shoot it in April.

Nerds young and old (myself included) got what they came for last night: a break from the heat and a good, family-friendly night out, tinged with slapstick humor and a bit of sexual innuendo the kids wouldn't understand, as well as a reminder that it's ok for all of us to stand out and be, well, weird.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I was as awkward as any adolescent out there, so my Weird Al phase was prolonged, and my brother and I listened to "Taco Grande" (on cassette) like it was our job. I'll always have a love for people making fun of pop music, and I think I still have the CD with "Amish Paradise" around my house somewhere.

The Crowd: A little milder than the crowd you'd see at Comic-Con, but of the same ilk. Lots of male pony-tails and Hawaiian shirts. Tangible geek vibe.

Overheard in the crowd: "In all my years of going to concerts, that was the first time I've heard the word 'diarrhea' on stage."

Random Notebook Dump: Chant break in the middle of "Yoda" complete with choreography, one guy and one girl were standing up in (different parts of) the crowd, doing the moves in perfect time. Start of an epic nerd-mance right there.

Set List:
Polka Face
You Make Me
Good Old Days
Smells Like Nirvana
Skipper Dan
You're Pitiful
Dare To Be Stupid
Let Me Be Your Hog
Canadian Idiot
Wanna B Ur Lovr
Money For Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies / Whatever You Like / I'm In Luv Wit Da Skipper / Confessions Part III / eBay / Bedrock Anthem / Another One Rides The Bus / Ode To A Superhero / Trapped In The Drive-Thru / Gump / Eat It
Amish Paradise
White & Nerdy

We All Have Cell Phones
The Saga Begins

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Lindsey Holder