LIVE: Weird Al Yankovic @ Proctors, 9/17/16
Review and photographs by Ed Conway
If you’ve seen Weird Al Yankovic live, you know there is a certain formula to his shows. There are no surprises. There will be a bunch of costume changes. There will be a polka made up of a medley of recent pop songs while the videos of those songs are synched to the live performance on the stage. And there will be a bunch of rabid fans singing along to every word.
Don’t, however, confuse the lack of surprises for lack of enjoyment. Despite knowing what will be happening on stage, Weird Al can still put on a truly amazing show. For instance, at Proctors in Schenectady last weekend, the show began with the band on stage playing while a video of Yankovic played behind them as he left the dressing room and made his way out into the arcade, finally entering in the back of the theater all while singing “Tacky,” spoofing Pharrell’s “Happy.”
This was not the only time he came out into the audience. While he didn’t do very much speaking to the audience, he connected with them through his performance. He was not just another singer going through the motions, and the audience was caught up in his energy.
With all the laughs and craziness on stage, it’s easy to dismiss the band as just a novelty act, but you don’t fill venue after venue for so many years without having some serious musical chops of your own. Yankovic has filled the stage around him with some truly outstanding musicians, who have stuck around for many years. Yankovic reprised his first hit, “Another One Rides the Bus” accompanied only by the man who first met him in the green room of Dr. Demento’s radio show and offered to play drums on Yankovic’s accordion case. This time, however, Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz used an actual bass drum.
While learning to play a cover song may seem easy, capturing the feel and style of the original is more difficult. Now when you play songs with varied styles perfectly, that requires major dedication. Jim “Kimo” West on guitar, Steve Jay on bass and Ruben Valtierra on keyboards, switched flawlessly from song to song, with such diverse styles, as “Amish Paradise” (a send-up of Coolio’s rap song “Gangsta’s Paradise”) to “I Perform This Way” (a spoof of Lady Gaga’s pop tune “I Was Born This Way”). Yankovic’s backing bandmates are definitely the unsung heroes of the shows.
How does a band do songs they’ve been doing for what must seem like centuries? Some bands choose to change the “feel” of the song, think Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” or you do a medley using a couple of stanzas of each song. Yankovic chose to do both. While sitting in a semi-circle in the front of the stage – think intimate acoustic show – the band launched into “Eat It” (the parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”) to the tune of the aforementioned “Layla”, then moved into a jazz/swing version of “I Lost on Jeopardy” (complete with Don Pardo screaming down on them from a giant video screen telling them what they didn’t win on “Jeopardy” and calling them complete losers). “I Love Rocky Road” got the doo wop treatment while “Like A Surgeon,” performed like a Vegas lounge singer, rounded out the medley.
Between songs, various videos played behind the band. These included various clips from his movie “UHF,” his appearance on several TV shows (including “The Simpsons”) as well as his various fake interviews with such stars as Celine Dion, Eminem and Michael Stipe. This gave time for the band to change into their various costumes and provided a nice – and funny – break from the frenetic pace of the show.
Harkening back to a comment Michael Stipe made during his “interview,” the band came out for their encore dressed in their “Star Wars” attire, complete with a Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper chorus line and lit into a rousing rendition of “We All Have Cell Phones” before finally settling into “The Saga Begins” catching the audience completely off guard (remember what I said about no surprises?). The final song of the evening was “Yoda,” complete with a hugely increased Yoda Chant.
The evening went quickly and the near-capacity crowd responded enthusiastically to everything. The entire show was one big track meet as the band raced to the back stage to change costumes between nearly every song. A show like that requires perfect timing and choreography, and they pull it off perfectly.
Just because a show has a formula doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. The nerdy kid who graduated from Lynwood High School at age 15 sure has a knack for bringing out the child in all of us.
WEIRD AL YANKOVIC SET LIST
Lame Claim To Fame
Polka (Wrecking Ball/Pumped Up Kicks/Best Song Ever/Gangnam Style/Call Me Maybe/Scream & Shout/Somebody That I Used to Know/The One You Won’t Forget/I’m Sexy and I Know It/Thrift Shop/Get Lucky)
Perform This Way
Dare to Be Stupid
First World Problems
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
Wanna B Ur Lovr
Eat It/I Lost on Jeopardy/I Love Rocky Road/Like a Surgeon
White & Nerdy
We All Have Cell Phones
The Saga Begins
Jason Romeyn’s review and photographs at NYS Music