It’s been a number of years since spending half of my 5th grade Saturday mornings with Weird Al and Harvey the Wonder Hamster beaming through the rabbit-ear antenna, not really aware of Al’s musical parodies (or probably caring much for them at the time). After growing into appreciating music throughout my younger years, it was only natural to pay attention to his releases. The lack of MTV or VH1 growing up created an absence of the visual component of his recordings but has made seeing Al for a second time even more exciting.
Weird Al’s latest album Mandatory Fun set off a world tour with his second to last NY appearance at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester. In what seemed to be at first a pre-taped video entrance, Al is seen starting off one of his latest songs, “Tacky,” just around the corner of The Cap, slowly making his way around the to the marquee in front (rendering some confusion in the drivers stopped at the nearby traffic light) and through some side alleys in a similar style to the music video for the song. The local flair of this intro perked the attention of The Cap early but we really got ourselves going when we saw the camera crew leading him in from the rear of the theatre and realized the whole thing was live and not lip-synched. Who makes an entrance like that these days?
It wouldn’t be a Weird Al show with at least a little bit of polka. His latest polka medley “Now That’s What I Call Polka” (an obvious play on the title of the Now That’s What I Call Music… series) took on “Wrecking Ball,” “Gangnam Style,” “Get Lucky,” and “Thrift Shop,” among a few others. For the younger folks in the crowd, this medley may have caught their attention more than his parody of an older song such as “Smells Like Nirvana.” It would have been fun to hear one of his earlier polka medleys toward the end of the show but there certainly wasn’t any disappointment in the set list.
He pulled something off this time which worked very well. Forming a semi-circle with his band armed with acoustic instruments and some candles for effect, he performed a medley of “Eat It,” “I Lost On Jeopardy,” “I Love Rocky Road,” and “Like A Surgeon” in a few easy-going cool styles. It was slightly confusing at first when Jim West (guitar) opened this run of songs with what sounded like Clapton’s acoustic version of “Layla” but were pleasantly entertained to hear Al sing “Eat It” over this guitar line. On the topic of medleys, Al has a lot of songs to choose from. Before this acoustic run, he performed a medley of ten songs with minimal costume changes done on the fly. It was a nice touch to give as big of a splash of his recordings in the span of a two-hour show.
As usual, Al and his bandmates donned different costumes throughout the show (Devo outfits, the fatsuit, Amish suits, Maple Leaf blazer, et al). In the time needed off stage by the band to change, we were treated to short video montages of Weird Al references – punch lines from shows such as Family Guy, Friends, 30 Rock, and cameos like The Simpsons, Epic Rap Battles of History, and some sort of My Little Pony clip, among others. Prime picked, these montages kept us laughing even when no one was on stage.
Al’s talent and showmanship on stage has been consistent, too. Compared to the first time I saw his show in 2011 at the Palace Theater in Albany, The Cap performance was just as, if not more, fun to watch. While of course many anchors of the setlist were the same (except for the handful of new ones he played off Mandatory Fun) it was all still fresh to see it again.
The highlight of the night was also the most interactive …if you’d call testing the realm of personal space interactive. Walking out of the shadows of the stage with a swagger accentuated by his flame-licked shirt and pants, Al soon made his way through the isles of the orchestra seats singing”Wanna B Ur Lovr.” There wasn’t really a chance for people to get in a cell phone photo frenzy as everyone was too busy catching every moment of his serenade of a handful of the women in the audience.
Before we had to part ways with Weird Al until the next time, we were treated to a Star Wars encore, led in by Rubén Valtierra (keys) in a hooded cloak, playing a few little teasers on the keyboard. Not long after a small mob of Stormtroopers and Darth Vader led the way for the wanna-be Jedi (Al). Who knows if there was a certain inspiration for an interlude between “The Saga Begins” and “Yoda, but it certainly seemed akin to a portion of Phish’s “You Enjoy Myself.” With only about four months until the release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the encore helped scratch that anticipatory itch just a little bit.
Aside from the comedy appeal of the show, it was musically fulfilling as well. There were some occasional sound effect samples in the songs, but the band comprised of Jon Schwartz on drums, Steve Jay on bass, Jim West on guitar, and Rubén Valtierra on keys recreated the sounds of the original songs across several genres flawlessy without any cheese factor. Valtierra joined the band in 1991, but the other three were part of Al’s music/comedy recordings since at least the 1982 debut album. This goes to show that Weird Al’s shows are way more than just a solo performer backed by filler music.
For someone who first caught on to Weird Al as a grade school student watching the Weird Al Show on Saturday mornings, it’s exciting to hear fresh parody topics that keep up with some of the latest music. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like Al is showing any signs of slowing down in his comedy.
Tacky, Lame Claim To Fame, Now That’s What I Call Polka!, Perform This Way, Dare To Be Stupid, Fat, First World Problems, Foil, Smells Like Nirvana, Party In The CIA/It’s All About The Pentiums/Handy/Bedrock Anthem/Another One Rides The Bus/Ode To A Superhero/Gump/Inactive/eBay/Canadian Idiot (medley), Wanna B Ur Lovr, Eat It/I Lost On Jeopardy/I Love Rocky Road/Like A Surgeon (acoustic medley), White & Nerdy, Word Crimes, Amish Paradise
Encore: We All Have Cell Phones, The Saga Begins, Yoda