|Weird Al polkaing to the Biebs|
Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of going to see Weird Al live in Raleigh. I can't say I follow his career and music religiously, but I grew up listening to him and occasionally keep up with what he's doing. It's equally weird to try and imagine popular music without him AND that he's still putting out new music and comedy thirty years on.
Weird Al puts on a good show. He has done so many live shows that he has them down to science. He knows when to pull out the new stuff or satisfy with the tried and true, and when it's time for the big finish. I was surprised by the number of costume changes and the virtuosity of his musicians. Al and his backup performers play in so many varied styles, it's kind of mind-blowing. In order to kill time during the costume changes, they played videos, sometimes a collection of pop references to himself or other comedy bits (my favorite was awkward celebrity interviews with himself spliced in as the interviewer). In reality, he's equally a music performer and a comedian.*
This was not your normal rock-concert crowd. For one thing, there was whole range of ages, including children. Weird Al's music invites children in. Kids' continued affinity to his music also lets him continue to be popular, while the audience of other 80s rockers continue to get older and grayer. Because of that, I think he'll still be popular for years to come. He also inspires more fanaticism than most: I've never seen so many T-shirts bought and worn per capita at a concert. Even though the venue wasn't filled, everybody there was pretty excited.
I think the main thing Weird Al does is make fun of rock and roll performance. For example, holding an his accordion up like it's some symbol of power, making fun of the way rock performers hold their guitars. Or flailing around on stage in a way that's completely awkward, yet eerily similar to what more serious performers do. Sometime the critique finds its way into the music itself, like in "Smells like Nirvana" (parody of "Smells like Teen Spirit"), where he performed dressed as Kurt Cobain and parodied the band, with remarkably few lyric changes. Another great performer critique song was this, although it is really creepy to have Al's face spliced onto someone else's body:
I bet Weird Al's so thankful that Lady Gaga came into the scenic. I mean, "Polka Face"? It's like a gift to him from a higher power.
Weird Al's spot-on Jim Morrison impersonation made me realize that Al actually has quite a good voice. I guess that makes sense, since he's able to sing all of those shows and stay vocally healthy. He's got quite a range, too. That also means that he sings and speaks in a high, nasally voice because he chooses to; it accentuates his character as a prankster.
If there was one thing I would change about the concert, it's being able to hear the words better. Most of the time, unless I knew the words already, I had a hard understanding what he was singing. This is a problem when the strength of parody comes form the words. Occasionally, there were helpful accompanying video animations, but these did not replace being able to hear the words. Actually, this is a problem with many rock concerts I have been to, which is puzzling. Maybe other people care less than I about being able to hear the lyrics. Or maybe it's just the venues.
|Do these people just tour with him? We couldn't decide.|
Why does Weird Al survive in the parody market while others fall? Perhaps because he doesn't really injure anyone with his parodies. They aren't malicious and probably advertise the original songs as much as make fun of them. Some of his parodies might be more popular than the original songs (as in the case of "White and Nerdy"). Or maybe he just knows how to exploit his fans. Anyway, he's good at what he does.
Favorite new song (to me, anyway)? "Party in the CIA."
*Of the people I follow on Twitter, he has the most consistently funny tweets (@alyankovic).