By Hollister Dixon
I have a lot of love for Weird Al Yankovic. He’s a man who’s career I haven’t followed as closely as should, but my love of his music goes back – like most people – to when I was a kid. I remember hearing Seattle’s KISS 106.1 premiere “The Saga Begins”, and I remember the joy of seeing him at the Puyallup Fair on the Poodle Hat tour when I was all of 13 years old (my third concert ever). Over the last 30 years, Yankovic has built a perfect legacy as the parody artist, one with an almost superhuman ability to create fantastic pop songs within another person’s framework, as well as creating pitch-perfect pastiche pieces (Running With Scissors odyssey “Albuquerque” springs to mind immediately, which may be his best work). I haven’t seen Yankovic perform since I was a kid, so it seemed like it was time to finally watch him work his magic with adult(ish) eyes.
Let’s get through a bit of frustration first: this is the very first time I’ve ever been to an Edgefield show with a reserved seating section. The flaws here manifested in a couple ways: first and foremost, this meant the sight lines for all of us who weren’t in those seats were poor at best. This wouldn’t be a horrible thing – I can handle not being up front for a show, after all – but this trickled down into the bizarre experience of being hollered at and given flack for the heinous sin of watching the show while standing. One concertgoer’s reasoning for asking my friend and I to sit? “I was here first.” A small standing area did naturally form, but this was in a spot where seeing all of the things projected onstage were nearly impossible to actually see. This is, of course, not the fault of Weird Al Yankovic, Edgefield, or anyone else involved… but it did absolutely tarnish the experience. It took me back to the feeling of being glared at for singing along the last time I saw him, which is something I’ve never quite gotten over. Come on, people! This is the Mandatory Fun tour! It’s right there in the title: the fun is MANDATORY! Get up and experience some joy!
Luckily, Weird Al Yankovic is a performer with more gusto and energy than dam near anyone on the planet, and the fact that he had the wherewithal to perform the way he does, in the godawful heat of summer, in costume, does a lot to underline his sheer dedication to doing what he does; he’s in a class all his own. The show began as a long, on-camera tracking shot of Al walking to the stage from his dressing room while performing “Tacky”, mimicking the fantastic video for the song. As a side note: how has it taken so long for him to have such a fantastic way to come to the stage? The fun of watching him utilize the venue itself as the backdrop for his unshakable energy is thrilling, and though he’ll likely ditch “Tacky” once the Mandatory Fun tour(s) end(s), it feels natural enough that it almost should have been there all along.
Back to those costumes, though. It would be easy to complain about the frequent breaks in between songs for those costume changes – breaks filled with clips from movies and shows mentioning or featuring Yankovic (him performing “Homer and Marge” on the classic Simpsons episode “Three Gays of the Condo”, his performance of the 30 Rock theme song from “Kidnapped By Danger”) or fake interviews with Celine Dion or Eminem – but in the end the performances are so much better with those costumes that it’s worth the flow of the set being broken constantly.
Even still, one of the most enjoyable moments of the show came close to the end of the show, when Yankovic and the band, untethered from costumes, took a few seats together in the middle of the stage and performed acoustic renditions of four songs: “Eat It”, “I Lost on Jeopardy”, “I Love Rocky Road”, and “eBay”. Aside from being a lovely detour from the gigantic blowout nature of everything (Al returned on a Segway for “White and Nerdy” right after this mini-set), but it also showcased the band as an actual band, rather than a bunch of people who stand around playing while Yankovic runs around in an octopus costume with an ice cream cone on his head (see: “Perform This Way”).
According to the friend I saw this show with, the setlist was identical to the one he performed here last year, when he stopped by the Oregon Zoo on the first edition of the Mandatory Fun tour (this is, it turns out, The Return Of the Mandatory Fun World Tour). It makes sense, considering the nature of the show (constant costume changes and video projections), but one has to wonder: what would it looks like if they ditched everything and just blasted through a solid, career-spanning 90-minutes? There’s a lot of joy to be had in watching Al perform “The Saga Begins” flanked by Stormtroopers and Darth Vader, but I’d pay really good money to see Al and his band, unburdened by the spectacle of everything, showcasing his superhuman abilities as an artist and songwriter. All of the extra flashy stuff is great, but he needn’t hide behind it; we aren’t fans of Weird Al Yankovic because he dresses like Obi Wan or puts on a fat suit version of Michael Jackson’s Bad music video get-up, we’re fans because he’s a legitimate genius and an unimpeachable performer. The rest is just gravy.