Weird Al Yankovic sits in a rarefied position. One of the few artists ever to have built a career on comedy songs, and not just “a career”- Mr. Al has sold 12 million albums over his incredibly impressive 30 year-long tenure as parody-poet laureate and is as relevant today as he ever has been with most recent album Mandatory Fun winning Best Comedy Album at the 2015 Grammys. That said nostalgia is the main reason why Birmingham’s O2 Academy is jam-packed for the first of the three UK dates Weird Al is playing on his Mandatory World Tour.
Weird Al Yankovic is 55 years old. You wouldn’t think as much viewing his onstage persona – a ball of child-like energy, bounding about the stage, arms and legs akimbo to his reimagined pseudo-hits. Tonight is a comedy show as much as live performance: in between costume changes to make him and his band look like Devo, Nirvana and ice cream-octopuses (!), clips from Weird Al’s numerous hilarious pop culture appearances and mentions play – ranging from his personal creations UHF and ALTV to Friends, Jeopardy, 30 Rock and The Naked Gun. Assembled together shows exactly what a far-reaching cultural phenomenon Weird Al is.
A Weird Al show is on another level completely from the routine of oh-so-serious bands performing stock still, mewling about various pains and heartbreaks – this is two hours of unadulterated fun. Highlights of the night include acoustic reworkings of his classic works (including ‘Eat It’ sung to the melody of Eric Clapton’s unplugged ‘Layla’), a surprisingly heavy airing of ‘Dare to be Stupid’ and a transformation into a heavy-set Michael Jackson for ‘Fat’ (which included him punching out Santa and his tremor-inducing dance moves that cause his bandmates to be humorously launched into the air slightly). While Al plays accordion for ‘Now! That’s What I Call Polka’ and others the rest of the instrumentation is capably handled, despite the vast range of genre, by his razor-sharp and occasionally costume clad band, not just talented hired hands, they have been his band since ’91, with drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz having been with Al since 1980’s ‘Another One Rides the Bus’.
Weird Al finishes his main set off with three of his biggest songs: 2006’s ‘White N’ Nerdy’ complete with Segway entrance, ‘Word Crimes’ (not just a smart criticism of wrong language use, but finally an opportunity to listen the dance-ability of ‘Blurred Lines’ without the sour-taste date-rape lyrics) and a bearded runthrough ‘Amish Paradise’. His encore consists of the of Star Wars themed-twosome of ‘The Saga Begins’ and ‘Yoda’, and is accompanied by appearances by some Stormtroopers and Darth Vader with Al clad in Jedi robes. An extended inventive a cappella ‘Yoda’ coda shows Weird Al as not just a funny man but also an extremely talented vocalist. There’s a reason he’s still around and popular after three decades: no one else combines musicianship, comedy and pure entertainment together quite like Weird Al Yankovic. Smiles all round.