"Weird Al" Yankovic
Nov. 6, 2011
Fox Theater, Oakland
Better than: Being a nerd in high school.
First, "Weird Al" Yankovic turned Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" into a pop-skewering polka. Then, he ribbed Taylor Swift with a song called "TMZ," about public obsession with the minutiae of celebrities' lives. (It was a perfect copy of Swift's hit "You Belong With Me," with only the lyrics changed.) Then he showed a fake interview with Eminem in which the rapper told Weird Al that his parody of "Lose Yourself" "was repetitive and it sucks."
"I could only change the words," Weird Al rejoined to Eminem in the video, as the theater erupted in laughter. "I couldn't change the music, too."
Is there a better antidote to the self-assured mindlessness of pop than the 52-year-old Weird Al? For much of his more than two-hour show at the Fox on Sunday, it felt as if the curly-haired, Hawaiian-shirted parodist was taking revenge on behalf of the smart, the shy, and yes, the nerdy. He was dragging the cool, pretty kids out into the light, exposing them for the airheads they usually are. And of course, he was also besting them at their own game, regurgitating three decades' worth of pop blockbusters as biting parodies laced with laugh lines and performed in ridiculous costumes.
For the first hour of the show, Yankovic and his band changed clothes after nearly every song. (They kept the audience busy during the changes with more of his mocking interviews, which included real shots of Madonna staring mindlessly at the ceiling, Celene Dion snorting rudely, or Keith Richards mumbling nonsense, spliced with Yankovic pretending to question them.) For "Smells Like Nirvana," Yankovic came out in a blonde wig and a Cobainesque T-shirt; his drummer wore what could have been a Dave Grohl wig, and the three other musicians wore flannel. Later in the show, for his parody of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," Yankovic and his band mates wore the outfits from their hilarious "Perform This Way" video. (Think Gaga's absurdity plus Weird Al's imagination, or Gaga's imagination plus Al's absurdity.) But the best costume of the night was for "Fat" -- a parody of Michael Jackson's "Bad" video -- which saw Weird Al come out in a fat suit with lots of makeup on, looking about 450 pounds.
So yes, the stop of this year's Alpocalypse tour was heavily scripted. It was nearly perfectly executed, too, excepting a little too much booming in the house sound at the start. And while the theater wasn't sold out, it did seem pretty full, with a crowd ranging in age from about five to more than 50.
You got the feeling that the audience would have come to see Weird Al no matter what -- that it didn't matter if this year's hit was a brilliant parody of Lady Gaga, say, or Rihanna, or Justin Bieber. (That has to be coming, right?) And overhearing the crowd after the show, it was clear that many fans weren't too familiar with the original songs he's using. (Those five- and 10-year-olds probably aren't getting the Dangerous Minds jokes of "Amish Paradise," after all.) But everyone becomes somewhat familiar with the base material, since Yankovic's parodies are nearly perfect replicas of the originals, right down to the chord changes, guitar solos, and even sometimes the rhyme schemes.
If there was any question about who Weird Al's fans are, it was answered by Sunday's encore, which featured not one, but two songs based on Star Wars: First up was "The Saga Begins," a remake of "American Pie" laced with references from the movie franchise. Yankovic and his band wore jedi robes, and the stage was filled with storm troopers and a Darth Vader, who began dancing and waving their laser guns like lighters. Next came "Yoda," a rip-off of the Kinks' "Lola," that went on an extended a capella breakdown before bringing things to a close. The applause was loud and sustained, and the vibe in the room was buoyant and happy, even after more than 120 minutes of show. But then, of course it was: Tonight, at least, the nerds had won.
Personal bias: My favorite of his recent parodies is "White and Nerdy," a quickly rapped take on Chamillionaire's "Ridin' Dirty" whose protagonist actually frightens the local gansters with his pocket protectors and Star Trek knowledge.
Highlight of the night: For all of "Wanna B Ur Lovr" -- a song that consists entirely of cheesy pickup lines -- Yankovic sashayed into the crowd, flirting with every lady he could get close to. (Like this.) He even went up to my lady and shook his ass in her face.