FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: REACH FOR THE FOIL HAT
It’s one of those occasions when I realise that travelling to distant lands, well County Durham, Cheshire and Derbyshire, is incompatible with trying to publish something new on the day you get back. So, forgive me the indulgence of one of my occasional anniversary editions today. It is indeed six years ago this month since the legendary master parodist Weird Al Yankovich hit these shores during his epic Mandatory World Tour. I was lucky enough to see the show when it landed on Hammersmith Broadway in October 2015.
To this day, it remains the best evening’s entertainment I have ever witnessed. So, may I crave your clemency as we now revisit it. Remember, when all about you is falling apart, there is always Weird Al.
I am greatly indebted to Nathan Dainty for his fantastic photography featured here. If you are anywhere near Sheffield and need an event photographer, Nate's your man. He'll do you a great wedding too.
So back to October 2015... anachronistic references forgiven, please. Mandatory fun came to Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo as Weird Al Yankovic’s 100-date world tour had its London stopover. Originally opened as the Gaumont Palace cinema in 1932, the Apollo has had almost as many names and owners as Weird Al has costume changes, yet this grand Art Deco theatre may never have staged anything quite like this before. Apollo has been charged with many mantles in Greek and Roman mythology, but has now been christened the God of Comedy. In front of a packed audience, whose ages ranged from young children to those old enough to be Yankovic’s parents and whose collective sartorial style was more IT Crowd than classical, the stage was set for something special.
During an opening montage of wacky video clips set to “Fun Zone”, the four-piece band took the stage and launched into Al’s Pharrell Williams spoof “Tacky”. We could hear the words but not see the singer. Then the frontman came into view on the big screen with a camera fixed on him as he sang his way from outside the venue to backstage and eventually along an aisle through the stalls, wild-eyed and besieged by selfie opportunists. The jacket of many colours came off and a baseball cap was donned next for “Lame Claim To Fame”, all of which threw more focus on Yankovic’s highly instinctive brand of dad dancing as the spiral design on his pants created an illusion of extraordinarily loose limbs. Attention then shifted partly to the screen as footage of the original acts from Miley Cyrus to Daft Punk accompanied the glorious “Now That’s What I Call Polka!” accordion-driven medley.
There was scarcely a pause before video clips heralded the first costume change. Al reappeared as a bright purple octopus with an inverted ice cream cone hat for his Lady Gaga tribute, “Perform This Way”. The great thing was that the band shared in this first makeover, from the skeleton-suited bassist to the nun on the drums, just as they did for subsequent ones. A spoof video interview with Celine Dion covered the next quick change as tout ensemble returned as Devo for “Dare To Be Stupid”. Other than wishing for bursts of lyrics to appear on screen, as Al’s best lines can be lost in the carefully choreographed chaos around the stage performance, there was no doubt the crowd was devouring each set piece. The singer had a look for every song, from the inflated suit for the Michael Jackson take-off, “Fat”, to the foil hat during the "Foil" homage to Lorde’s “Royals”.
The show’s format of parodies, video clips over costume changes, and more parodies might be familiar to repeat customers, but seeing Weird Al live for the first time, the prevailing impression is one of sheer entertainment that never flags or falters. A big part of the show’s success is down to the proficiency of his live band, who managed to be everyone’s favourite tribute act while individually contributing comic moments of their own along the way. The way the keyboard player involved sections of the audience in a mad call-and-response routine before the Star Wars-inspired encore was as side-splitting as it was indescribable. The clean-cut rock accompaniment to the simply hilarious “First World Problems” showed the other prime facet of this exemplary outfit.
It was a night when highlights came thick and fast; among them, “Smells Like Nirvana” hit the spot for real comic showmanship, while the Maple Leaf-jacketed singer was agreeably manic during “Canadian Idiot”. On both songs, and indeed through the evening, Yankovic’s vocals adapted to the material with consummate ease, whether in powerhouse, rap, or croon mode. He charmed the ladies as a true lounge lizard on “Wanna B Ur Lovr” and even mixed up his best-known parody “Eat It”, reworking it unplugged in the style of Eric Clapton’s acoustic version of “Layla”.
With videos between songs lampooning a range of targets, from Eminem’s syntax to the Whiplash school of music teaching, the pace never slackened. The show peaked with the splendidly constructed “Word Crimes” with (at last) all the lyrics displayed so the grammarians in the audience (that’s most of them) could savour every adroit phrase, followed by an Amish makeover for the reimagining of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”. One of the most demanded encores I’ve ever seen was delivered on cue with Weird Al and band in Jedi garb, flanked by Imperial Stormtroopers and a giant Darth Vader, as the audience predictably demonstrated that they all had cell phones, too. The “American Pie” send-up of “The Saga Begins” and of course “Yoda” to The Kinks’ “Lola” completed this triumvirate of singalong crowd-pleasers.
Veteran of 14 studio albums plus compilations, books, and DVDs at the time of this show, Weird Al has made a career as a parodist par excellence. By the time he completed this marathon tour in January 2016 with shows down under, he has clocked up enough air miles to have earned a weekly trip to Sydney for a year. Now (that’s what we call) 55 years old in 2015, the Californian showed no signs of taking life easier. The whole audience stood and applauded wildly at the end. I can scarcely recall such an enthusiastic ovation in a considerable time and it was richly deserved; mandatory, even.
Lame Claim To Fame
Now That’s What I Call Polka!
Perform This Way
Dare To Be Stupid
First World Problems
Smells Like Nirvana
Medley – Party In The CIA / It’s All About The Pentiums / Handy / Bedrock Anthem / Another One Rides The Bus / Ode To A Superhero / Gump / Inactive / eBay
Wanna B Ur Lovr
Unplugged medley – Eat It / I Lost on Jeopardy / I Love Rocky Road / Like A Surgeon
White & Nerdy
We All Have Cell Phones
The Saga Begins
A version of this review appeared on ConsequenceofSound in October 2015.
If you enjoyed reading this and chuckled at Weird Al's extraordinary way with words, you might enjoy the rich vein of video material on his YouTube page, including this marvellous riposte to all things corporate, "Mission Statement". If it sounds a wee bit familiar, as it should, the song is in the style of Crosby, Stills & Nash, echoing the then trio's 1969 opus "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."