Concert Reviews

Comic Musician "Weird Al" Yankovic's Showmanship is No Joke

It's often been said that "Weird Al" Yankovic's legacy on the music industry is how he's become a stepping stone for new pop musicians. They hope to score more than just another "song of the summer" for their musical careers by becoming the target of his next parody.

He might be playing his career for laughs but he clearly has a deep reverence for the craft of music making. Yankovic has the legal right to parody any song he wants but he still asks for the original musician's permission before he publishes it. He occasionally makes fun of the musical act he's parodying but it's never mean-spirited or personal. He mines jokes from their stage presence and quirks rather than the tabloid fodder of their personal lives like how he makes fun of Kurt Cobain's marbled mouthed singing style in his parody of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or Lady Gaga's hallucinogenic wardrobe choices in "Perform This Way," a takeoff on Gaga's "Born This Way." 

However, nowhere is Yankovic's respect and dedication to music more apparent than in one of his live shows like the one he and his dedicated band put together last Saturday at the Winspear Opera House. Yankovic has a career and a fan base that spans more than 30 years who could easily be entertained just by him stepping out on stage and singing some of his more popular songs. Still, he went above and beyond for the people who paid to see him perform in person. 

Yankovic is currently on his second Mandatory World Tour that served as a local followup for the fans who couldn't get tickets to or enough of the show he did last summer at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie

The focus of his show is on the music, even if he's performing purely for laughs. It's a tightly constructed and executed set list that not only included multiple instruments and heavy multimedia interaction but also wardrobe changes and even some special prosthetic makeup.

Yankovic starts the show on the big screen as he strolls down the backstage hallways and into the lobby of the Winspear to the tune of "Tacky," his take on the song and video for Pharrell Williams' relentlessly positive pop hit "Happy." He dances with the staff and executes some well-timed jokes, like when he walks up to the cheerleaders who are scheduled to dance during his "Smells Like Nirvana" performance just as he sings the lyrics "I met some chick, ask her this and that, like are you pregnant girl or just really fat?" He strolls into the theater and does the same with his screaming fans as he strolls up to the stage. 

Yankovic and his band have no problem switching between songs and styles but some transitions call for complicated costume changes. So the show fills the time by playing clips on the screen that showcase the marks that Yankovic has left on pop culture including references made to the musician on shows like How I Met Your Mother, Jeopardy! and Real Time with Bill Maher as well as personal appearances Yankovic has made on The Simpsons and Gravity Falls.

The funniest moments come from the sketches and videos that Yankovic produced for his Al TV specials back when MTV didn't spend all of its airtime exploiting the lives of pregnant teens for reality fodder or his various YouTube offerings. He's racked up a long chain of phony interviews using clips from less intentionally funny interviews with musicians like Celine Dion, Michael Stipe and Eminem that are some of the funniest non-musical products he's ever produced. 

The set list featured a nice mix of tracks from his newest album Mandatory Fun, the first album of his career to premiere at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and the first comedy album to land the spot since 1963 with Allan Sherman’s My Son the Nut, along with other hits that helped him reach such a milestone as his Devo-inspired city “Dare to be Stupid” and his parody of Chamillionaire’s only hit “Ridin’ Dirty” reworked into an anthem for D&D playing, HTML code writing, fanny pack sporting caucasians called “White and Nerdy.”

The format of the show itself also seemed to serve as a clever parody of musical concert trends. Yankovic and his band, including drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, guitarist Jim West, bassist Steve Jay and keyboard player Rubén Valtierra, stepped away from their instruments at the halfway mark to form a tight semi-circle at the center of the stage where they played an acoustic set of other Yankovic classics a la MTV Unplugged style. It kicked off with the melody of Eric Clapton’s “Leyla” that somehow fits perfectly with the lyrics of Yankovic’s “Eat It,” the parody of the late Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” that launched Yankovic’s celebrity status in the early '80s.

It can be difficult to actually find the musical portion of the show funny after awhile if you know all the lyrics and can sing along with the jokes but he also found a clever way around that by pulling out one of his lesser known songs towards the end of the show. Yankovic's original tune "Wanna B Ur Lover" (not to be confused with "Eye Wanna B Ur Lover" by the late Prince who famously turned down every attempt Yankovic ever made to parody one of his songs) strings together a bunch of awkward pick-up lines in musical form. He uses them to woo some of the squirmier members of the audience while walking through the crowd in a flame covered suit that looks like something Guy Fieri might wear to a funeral. 

Yankovic even penciled in an encore that made the perfect crescendo for such an auspicious gathering of pop culture nerds. After exiting the stage while being carried off by a crew member who covers him in a James Brown cape, he and his band return to the chanting crowd to perform a pair of Star Wars tribute songs including "The Saga Begins," a parody of Don McLean's "American Pie" that recaps the plot of The Phantom Menace and "Yoda," a parody of The Kinks' "Lola" about the world's tiniest Jedi master. 

It's hard to imagine even the most critical soul not at least cracking a smile during Yankovic's show. Even if you don't like Yankovic's music because you're too stuffy to appreciate goofy or you're just dead inside, his clear dedication to organizing and executing a quality show for his fans makes you feel appreciated. 

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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.