Al hasn't toured since 2004, so excitement was high for this time out. And for good reason, as he's touring for a full year at the moment, and will probably continue into '08 with his unique type of concert where the visuals are just as important as the audio (hence the reason there are so many pictures/video links here). The Meadowbrook Music Centre was about as lame as you might expect, with as much attention going to the sales of fair food as to the concert itself. Reminded me a lot of the Dylan show in Essex Junction. If you can tune out all the extra junk though, it can still be a great time. The two previous times I'd seen Al, in '03 and '04, there had been a local stand-up comedian warm up the crowd, but not tonight, when at 8:15 his instrumental Fun Zone started blaring, having been his intro music for years.
A montage of talk show hosts introducing him led to the light coming up to reveal Al and his band going straight into their newest polka, Polkarama! He always starts his show with one of these, which is somewhat ironic in that it's the exact opposite of what he normally does. Here he doesn't change any of the lyrics, but makes the music, you guessed it, polka. The band is in sync to the original music videos (like this), artists like the Pussycat Dolls, Weezer, and 50 Cent, Weird Al rocked out his accordion for a fun start. From there he threw on a thin red tie and went straight into the Green Day parody Canadian Idiot. I was never a huge fan of it on record (it seems a little too easy) but it was a good choice for early in the show, loud enough to get things going. Having bright maple leaf visuals going on behind and a climactic shot of red and white streamers into the audience were great effects, covering well for the fact that it turned out Al needed a little warming up, as there was a distinct lack of energy (by his standards at least) for the first few songs. Another thing that surprised me was the audience response. Many of them seemed unfamiliar with many of the songs, cracking up at the best lines like I did the first time I heard 'em.
The "drum soooolooooooooo" break of two hits by Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz gave Al enough time to throw on a pair of shades and a hat for the Cake style-parody (meaning it's not a parody of any particular song, just their sound in general) Close But No Cigar. By far the highlight here was the strange percussion instrument Al kept hitting absurdly loudly, making the song sound truly bizarre. Like an actual Cake song. Reuben Valtierra played the piano intro to the Weird Al original Why Does This Always Happen to Me, off of the last album Poodle Hat. Though we didn't get the treat of having Ben Folds come out and do it like previous shows have gotten, it was still an early highlight, the lyrics making me crack up as much as ever. "I was watching my tv one night when they broke in with a special report / About some devastating earthquake in Peru / There were thirty thousand crushed to death, even more were buried alive / On the Richter scale it measured 8.2 / I said, God please answer me one question / Why'd they have to interrupt the Simpsons just for this?" You get the idea.
Everyone left the stage while one of many AlTV interviews was shown. These are fake interviews Al does with celebrities, making up questions to fit the real (and generally hilarious) footage of the celebrity in some other interview. A frank talk with Jessica Simpson in which she kept saying her name was Jessica Sampson was enough time for the guys to get changed for the Puff Daddy (now P.Diddy. I think.) parody It's All About the Pentiums. It was basically the same as when I saw it at the other two concerts, so nothing too exciting, but the insane strobe light chorus is always exciting (and seizure-inducing). A video break with Mariah Carey and Celine Dion interviews as well as an unbelievably funny informative video Lessons in Carelessness (watch the whole series in decent quality here) led into another song I didn't think I was a huger fan of...until tonight. The history behind the James Blunt parody You're Pitiful is that it was recorded with James' blessing and intended to be the first single, until at the last minute Blunt's label Atlantic Records banned it from being released. So Al released it on his website, but it never made it onto an album. He came out in this bulky rain jacket, which I was confused by, but thought maybe Blunt sings in a rain jacket. He's weird enough that I wouldn't be altogether surprised. It became clear though when after the first verse he removed it to reveal a bright gold lamee shirt. I thought he looked kind of bulky, and wondered if he'd gained wait, until he whipped off the lamee shirt to reveal a skeleton t-shirt. I thought I was catching on here. That soon came off (he must hold a record in shortest time removing t-shirts) to reveal another shirt, and the another. Eventually, he took off a to reveal a yellow t-shirt with bright black letters: Atlantic Records Sucks. 90% of the audience probably didn't get it, but those of us who did almost died from laughter and applause. Anyway, he kept going from there. This picture shows how he ended up.
I thought it was a good look for him, but it didn't last long. The next video segment featured an interview with Madonna (maybe the best of the lot - that woman is strange), Steven Tyler, a Friends clip featuring a not-particularly-funny Al reference, and this clip about giving back to the community. He came out in a red leisure suit and went into another one off of his previous album, Wanna B Ur Lover in all its Prince-esq sleaziness. He slinked and swerved all over the stage before strutting in the audience to use sure-fire lines like "You must have fallen from heave...that would explain how you messed up your face" on the women of the audience, sitting on one person's lap for one line and panting in someone else's hear the next. The highlight was him gyrating his pelvis inches from an old lady's face (it's ok, she loved it), but the whole number was great. You felt dirty just watching it.
An interview with Eminem (including another inside joke about Em vetoing Al's parody video) preceded Weird Al and the guys coming out dressed as...normal people. Well, not quite, with Al dressed in the hoodie and jacket for the Lose Yourself parody Couch Potato. He started with the second verse, which I thought was a mistake, but it turned out it wasn't just the song, but a whole medley. He whipped off the hood to reveal a tousled gray Taylor Hicks wig for Do I Creep You Out. From there he donned Gilligan's white floppy hat and red shirt for an unreleased song I'd never heard before, I'm In Love With a Skipper (twenty bucks for what that's a parody of). The song itself wasn't hugely imaginative, but the video clips from the show were priceless, making the old family comedy look more homosexually charged than Will and Grace. Another surprise was next in the medley, with a new verse to Headline News, his Crash Test Dummies' MMM MMM MMM MMM parody, about Paris Hilton (previous shows have had a new one about Britney Spears). From there it was a little Usher with Confessions Part III into Avril Lavigne, A Complicated Song (the best verse, about inadvertent incest), into the Backstreet Boy's I Want It That Way parody Ebay. And we're only halfway through the medley. Bedrock Anthem -> Ode to a Superhero -> Pretty Fly for a Rabbi -> an awkwardly long (in the best way possible) video-synced Trapped in the Drive-Thru -> Gump. Whew. That wasn't quite all though, as the stage manager brought his keyboard onstage and Al threw on his red leather jacket and did his Michael Jackson dance for a verse of Eat It. With so many songs people want to here, these medleys are fabulous and I wish he had more of them.
After that marathon, he took another break to one of the best videos of the night, Al presenting the Sexiest Video Award on VH1's VMA's. As you can see here, they're pretty sexy. An interview with Keith Richards followed, and then the clip of Ghandi II from Al's 1987 movie UHF. Al came out in some military jacket and a long rasta wig, with Steve Jay the bassist in some 3/4 length baseball shirt and Jim West the guitarist rocking a boy scout shirt and a baseball cap. As they went into I'll Sue Ya, I was still trying to figure out who they were until I noticed that Jim looked kind of like Tom Morello. Didn't think much of it, until suddenly it dawned on me that Morello is the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, and I'll Sue Ya is a style-parody of them. Got it. Another song I hadn't paid much attention to on record, the lyrics made me laugh out loud, lines like "I'll sue Colorado, cause you know, I think it looks a little bit too much like Wyoming." For the final chorus Al got down on his knees in front of the stage while a dark red spotlight shown on his face. Even cooler, at one point something above the stage started spitting out dollar bills with Al's face on them to the crowd below.
An interview with Paul McCartney led into the band coming on in their Star Wars robes. The Saga Begins/Yoda sequence has always been the closing number of the show, but it seemed a little early. Then I realized he hadn't done a few songs I knew he would, including his current single, so I guess the tradition of it being last is no more. The Saga Begins was not too exciting, a song I've heard too many times and one without exciting stage action. Al grabbed the accordion and they launched into Yoda, another one that doesn't do much for me live...with one huge exception. And that is the famous (in the right circles) Yoda Chant. It is this elaborate incoherent chant and dance that everyone on stage does in sync. Each tour they add on a little more, but it has to be seen to be understood, so check out that video. Speaking of videos, quite a few next, starting with an interview with Celine Dion, a great video for a song Lousy Haircut, an interview with Justin Timberlake (by now the interviews were starting to get old), and the video for his new song Weasel Stomping Day. With that long break, I figured Fat was up next, but it turned out to be Smells Like Nirvana. He had two gothic cheerleaders join him for the song which, combined with Jim's Dave Grohl wig, made it look pretty angsty.
The best interview of the night (with reasons to come later) was the next one with Michael Stipe of REM. For part of it he agreed with Stipe to collaborate on a song, and asked Stipe for some profound lyric. The response, "We've all got cell phones, so come on, let's get real" Al put a little tune to. Michael seemed unimpressed. Combined with a Johnny Bravo clip, an Avril Lavigne clip, and a video of Al's appearance on the Simpsons, it made for another long break. Amish Paradise is also one I'm kind of sick of (the end of the show has a lot of these, the big hits), but the scene of the whole band dressed as Menonites is memorable visually. For the choir part they showed the music video video clip of all the Amish singing along, joining the band. An interview with Kevin Federline (once again, too easy) turned out to be a good segue into a song by another guy who should never rap, the Chamillionaire parody White and Nerdy. The band was dressed up as office geeks, while Al had a bandanna and an oversize White and Nerdy hoodie. He rode in on a segue and zipped about the whole first verse, no hands. Steve and Jay didn't play instruments for the only time that evening as they rapped backup. Weird Al is parodieing a dork who would think he was a rapper, but Jim and Steve really seemed the part, not really in time and horrendously out-of-place. I don't think it was intentional, but given that they're middle-aged, probably inevitably. The first time I heard it, I thought it sounded terrible, but now think it just adds to the appeal. Behind the band a video was showing of outtakes from the music video, mostly Donny Osmond dicking around and mugging for the camera. Hilarious, even funnier than the real video itself. You can see a lot if (with terrible audio quality) here. After the horrendous Tonight Show performance of this one, he's really figured out how to pull it off live.
Most of Al's videos are obviously jokes, but his commercial for a fake MTV Unplugged set is so sincere if you didn't know him you'd think it was legit. You've got the candles, the golf-clapping audience members, and the obnoxious speech about getting back to the heart of the music, etc. I'd love to hear full unplugged arrangements of all those songs too. The video intro of the Michael Jackson parody Fat, maybe his biggest hit ever, led into Al coming out in the fat suit (how he gets that thing on so quick is beyond me). I didn't think it was going to do much for me, but it's a blast, with every movement Al does eliciting some percussion sound (watch Jacko's original video, it's bizarre) and doing leg kicks lying on the floor with the band. The choreography is definitely what keeps this song fresh, and is probably necessary since there's a limited number of things he can do in that suit.
I wasn't sure if there'd be an encore, since there weren't any obvious songs he hadn't done, but the lights stayed down and I was thrilled to see the band come on, Al just in a Hawaiian shirt. "Alright, there's one song we know you all came here to see, so here you go. Enjoy." As I wracked my brain to figure out which hit he hadn't done, he started singing. "We've all got cell phones..." A funny little joke, except there was nothing little about it. After an acapella verse (just the line three times, followed by "cell phones.....(very earnestly) let's get real") the drums came in and it became an epic sing-a-long. Needless to say, audience members were soon prompted to hold up their phones (most had done so already) so the audience was bathed in electric blue light. You gotta watch it to understand (and realize what a really catchy song it is) here. At the end a familiar drum intro came in, the audience exploding. When I placed the riff, I was sure it was a tease. Al never plays Albuquerque live (except in a certain city) because it kills his vocal chords. And is over 11 minutes long. Well, apparently that's changed too as he busted into the least likely song I ever thought I'd see. Any moment I expected him to stop it, but he did the whole damn thing. Don't know how he's managed to survive vocally, but he's figured it out as it was full of shrieks, screams, leaping, sprinting, and general on-stage mayhem. An amazing and unpredictable end to a concert even better than I'd predicted. If only he played more old stuff, only doing three songs, plus a couple in the medley, not on his last three albums (and the guy's got twenty). But after doing Like a Surgeon live for a dozen years, maybe it is time for a break.