Al may be weird, but he certainly isn't dumb. He is, after all, the biggest name in the rarefied field of pop music parody. The 47-year-old has had a career for almost 30 years and sold semi-trailers of albums.
On disc and DVD, Weird Al Yankovic's parodies are beautifully-crafted gobbets of whimsy. True, the lyrics aren't always infused with wit of Swiftian or Wildean calibre. For instance, Canadian Idiot — a spoof of Green Day’s American Idiot — contains such lame-o insults as “beer-swillin’ idiot” and “frost-bitten hosehead.” But then, maybe that’s a sore point with some of us Canucks.
Al’s musical parodies do work, overall — as his sold-out show for 1,450 at the Royal Theatre proved. It’s partly because pop, rock and hip-hop are as over-ripe for satire as a three-month-old avocado. As well, Yankovic’s band is slicker than an Atlantic oil spill, able to glide from ear-rattling neo-punk to funk to hip-hop to gooey ballads with consummate skill.
Tuesday night, due to some mix-up, Al and company lumbered on stage half an hour late. But when the boys started playing, they tore off like a locomotive. They opened with the high-powered, tour-de-force medley Polkarama! — a blender-mix of such tunes as Let’s Get It Started (Black Eyed Peas), Take Me Out (Franz Ferdinand), Somebody Told Me (The Killers) and more.
Dispensed in four or five startling minutes, with the accordion-equipped Weird One looking appropriately demented, it sounded a little like ... oh, say chipmunks on benzedrine. Stalking the stage with his trademark Louis XIV mane, Al and his four-piece followed with the buzz-saw attack of Canadian Idiot. Well-received by the crowd — who seemed a tad on the tame side — the tune climaxed with an explosion of red and white streamers.
What followed was a grab-bag of old and new. Newer tunes included You’re Pitiful, Yankovic’s parody of James Blunt's sucky ballad, You’re Beautiful. Recast as a rebuke to a pathetic girlfriend (“You still live with your mom and you’re 42”), it's not one of Al's cleverest parodies. However, those who are aware Blunt’s record company vetoed the send-up (Blunt himself was OK with it) likely got a laugh when the comedian stripped down to reveal an “Atlantic Records sucks” T-shirt.
Almost two hours into the show, Weird Al unleashed his hit White and Nerdy, a parody of the hip-hop tune Ridin’ by Chamillionaire. The video — showcasing the antics of a frenetically goofy white nerd trying to be cool — is one of Yankovic’s better efforts.
The concert rendition had less impact, despite the posturings of Al — clad in a red bandana and a “white and nerdy” hoodie — and his pocket-protector-wearing bandmates. Still, the lyrics are funny: “MC Escher, that’s my favourite MC/ Keep your 40, I’ll just have an Earl Grey tea... My MySpace page is all totally pimped out” etc.
It was a mostly an under-30 crowd, nonetheless, there was plenty for older rock fans. One of the night’s highlights, for instance, was Yoda (about the funny little Stars Wars creature) which is a parody of the Kinks’ 1970 hit, Lola. The best part is a bizarro-world rap in the middle, complete with weird cheers, dancing and a Jerry Lewis yelp.
So how does Weird Al manage to attract a sell-out crowd? I think it’s because, like the music he skewers, Al is pop culture (that and the fact his current Straight Outta Lynwood album is a best-seller). If some lyrics seem a touch grade schoolish, it’s because he's trying to appeal to a wide demographic — just like MAD magazine once did.
As well, in musical terms the send-ups are absolutely spot-on, with all flourishes securely in place. And it's not just that Al’s band rocks. Despite having a flat, rather nasal voice, Yankovic can unleash a sultry soul falsetto or an ultra-fast rap or a Kurt Cobain howl when required.
And, perhaps most importantly, Weird Al obviously loves the music he sends up. You can see it in that great big smile on his face.