I was not familiar with opener Emo Philips’ work beyond his appearance in UHF, but after seeing him open for “Weird Al” Yankovic I might have to explore his comedic stylings. Certainly his vocal affectation can be a little off-putting, but if you can get beyond it there is some good stuff there.
His style reminds me at least a little bit of Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg, only Phillips’ jokes take darker twists. An example: “I got in trouble on a date recently: I didn’t open the car door… instead I just swam for the surface.”
If relationships were his greatest muse, cornball puns (as if there are any other kind) were his other. One such groaner went. “This is my impression of the stratosphere: “So thisguy comes up to me... “ (Say it out loud if it doesn’t make sense to you.)
Emo ended the half hour set by saying he had known “Weird Al” Yankovic since the 80s and had always wanted to tour with him. Al replied that it would happen, but only if Donald Trump was elected president. Emo’s deadpan response: “I’m sorry.”
“Usually when I write songs, I inhabit a character,” quipped “Weird Al” Yankovic before a packed Pabst Theater on Tuesday night, “...but this song is 100 percent autobiographical.” The song in question was the stunning tour de force of “Albuquerque,” a fan favorite deep cut off of 1999 LP Running With Scissors. This little (admittedly facetious) tibdit was emblematic of the tour as a whole: Yankovic and his excellent band ditched the costume changes, video screens, and hit parodies for stools, a minimalist stage setup, and set mostly comprised of rarely performed deep cuts and style parodies.
Reflecting upon last night’s set and reading other reviews (and also attending the show with a lifelong hardcore “Weird Al” fan) made me realize that there are levels to “Weird Al” fandom. All Yankovic fans are dorks to some degree or another -- he doesn’t go by “Cool” or “Awesome” for a reason -- but some take it further than others. They are the ones that know all the words to all the songs, the more obscure the better. Then there are folks like me who like Al just fine, but never really got into the back catalogue beyond the hits. This show was definitely for the former, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless.
As much as I might be a middle of the road fan, I’m not unlike my fellow dorks in that I’ve always wanted a “Weird Al” show that was more like a real concert instead of a choreographed musical. In doing it this way, the show revealed Al as a person in addition to his stage persona. Al and the band got to do the songs they wanted to do, and they looked like they were having a blast doing it.
The aforementioned “Albuquerque” was easily the set highlight for me. Sure, the version here was turbo-charged compared to the studio version -- Yankovic’s vocals were rushed, and some of the humor comes from the pacing and pauses -- but still, it was awesome in all of its manic, stream-of-consciousness hilarity.
Another highlight was the Doors pastiche “Craigslist,” from the little-loved Alpocalypse LP. It’s not that the song is terribly funny -- though the coffee shop bit always gets me -- but rather the performance of it. Yankovic does a pretty inspired Jim Morrison impression with this tune, and the band plays up the moodiness of it all pretty well.
The crowd was otherwise treated to a career-spanning set full of deep cuts, some fan favorites (“The Night Santa Went Crazy (Extra Gory Version)”), some -- even “Weird Al” acknowledged (“Airline Amy”) -- not so much. Though there was some hooting and hollering (and random song requesting) between numbers, the people in attendance mostly hung on Yankovic’s every word. With that in mind, one could read the crowd as being either subdued or reverent depending on your perspective, but I don’t think that really matters. Many laughs were had, and Yankovic and band were showered with applause after every song.
The set ended with a medley of parody hits (“Eat It,” “Smells Like Nirvana,” “Amish Paradise,” etc.), which was presented not as a polka but as MTV Unplugged-style classic rock. It was a nice nod to his most casual fans but also a nice little surprise for his most hardcore ones.
The two-song encore consisted of a straight-up cover of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.” In an alternate universe, the theater would have erupted into a Pack Up The Plantation style singalong, but it was not to be. “Yoda,” however, did have the biggest singalong of the night. It was fitting that the show was closed out with a well-known parody, because let’s face it: no one got into “Weird Al” because they heard “Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White” or “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.” At the same time, those songs are the reason Yankovic has the enduring fandom that he does. The proof was on the faces and in the voices of everyone that left the Pabst Theater.