Monday, September 26, 2011

Let's Get Weird

There's something absurdly delightful about watching a grown man in a head-to-toe tiger-striped suit croon a song full of thick innuendoes ("I don't have a library card / but do you mind if I check you out?") to a crowd of uncomfortable ladies. Or at least, it's delightful when that man is Weird Al. A third of the way into his set Saturday night at ACL Live, Weird Al Yankovic finished an interactive rendition of his "Wanna B Ur Lovr" on the ground summoning a high, ridiculous falsetto.

Here, Weird Al was doing what he does best -- exploiting the absurdity of a certain type of performer while singing truly and intentionally silly lyrics. This is a man who has devoted his adult life to co-opting the styles of everyone from Billy Joel to Eminem to sing songs about strange foods, underwear, Spider-Man, and Star Wars. And yet, this mix of the subversive and silly is exactly what makes Weird Al so undeniable.

Raising his accordion, Weird Al and his band opened the show with "Polka Face" -- a goofy polka parody of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" that quickly morphs into a DJ Earworm-worthy mashup of current pop music. Kid Cudi's "Day N Nite," Justin Bieber's "Baby," Britney Spears's "Womanizer," Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl," plus others, all get covered polka band style -- which even includes a yodel during Ke$ha's "Blow." Shifting into another song from Alpocalypse, the band played "TMZ," a send-up of celebrity bad behavior set to Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me," before letting Weird Al do some full body rolls at the keyboard on "You Make Me."

Ushering in an evening that must have had something like a 1:2 ratio of costume changes to songs, Weird Al slipped back stage, only to reappear in a short blonde wig, flanked by cheerleaders for "Smells Like Nirvana." He busted through a couple of newer songs, "Skipper Dan," "Party in the C.I.A." and "CNR," a song about Charles Nelson Reilly of "Match Game" fame that borrows the now-defunct White Stripes' "Icky Thump."

From here the band went into a medley of songs, beginning with UHF's "Money For Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies" and working through "eBay," "My Bologna," and "Lasagna." While Weird Al's ability to outlast many of the performers he parodies has been frequently acknowledged, at no time was it more apparent than at the start of "Spam," a riff on "Stand" from the just-broken up R.E.M. Toward the end of this set, on the Billy Joel "Piano Man" parody "Ode to a Superhero," Weird Al had a stage hand assist him by holding a harmonica, which he then played while also playing accordion at the same time. While it may be easy to write off his musical abilities while listening to his recorded work, in person it's hard not to acknowledge his musicianship, however strange it may be.

All the big costumes and props came out in the night's final act, with Weird Al pouncing on the keyboard in a red Thriller jacket for "Eat It," donning a long beard and large hat for "Amish Paradise," riding out on a Segway for "White & Nerdy," wearing a plush peacock mascot suit for "Perform This Way," and finishing in a full fat suit and facial prosthetic for "Fat." The crowd was all on their feet for the encore, which found a cast of Star Wars characters, including storm troopers, Darth Vader, and R2D2, grooving to "The Saga Begins" and ultimately "Yoda."

Throughout the evening, interview clips from the rarely-seen AL TV played, as well as numerous clips from TV shows ("Everybody Loves Raymond," "Friends," "The Simpsons") that referred to Weird Al, often as a punchline. And just as some artists consider it a badge of honor to receive a Weird Al parody, being given punchline status clearly secures Weird Al's place as an oddball cultural icon.

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