Live Review: Weird Al Yankovic Needs to Work on His Live Shows

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect out of Weird Al Yankovic's The Mandatory World Tour when it stopped at the City National Civic in San Jose Sunday night. Though I'm more of a casual Weird Al fan (“UHF” is downright hilarious), there are a few songs of his that I find myself listening to quite often, and I've always been one to enjoy musical parodies.

The show opened with Yankovic's “Tacky” — his parody of Pharrell Williams' “Happy” — with live footage of the comedic singer displayed on large screens showing him outside the venue, entering the theater, and walking through the crowd before joining his backing band on stage. The crowd erupted in a roar that for a moment seemed to overpower the song itself.
[jump] Fittingly, Yankovic started the night off wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a crazy colored suit, and orange, yellow, and black striped pants, the first of many costume changes. But the opening song set the tone for the rest of the evening: There was just something off about the performance, and that was a feeling that the show never really managed to shake free from.

Over his two hour set, Yankovic performed material from his quite lengthy career, one that has gone on to last even longer than some of the artists that he parodies. Each section of the set was met with a break and a costume change — Yankovic donned his fat suit for, well, “Fat;” came out as a weird purple alien octopus thing with an ice cream cone on his head for “Perform This Way;” and dressed in an all-black ensemble and beard for “Amish Paradise.” Oh, and he also rode out on a Segway for “White & Nerdy.”

In between the many set breaks were clips of Yankovic's myriad pop culture appearances, which only further reinforced just how much of pop culture he's either assimilated — or been assimilated — into. He really has been everywhere.

But musically, something just wasn't working, and I was left disappointed with the overall performance.

Nobody is calling to question Yankovic's ability to skewer songwriting left and right, but everything just felt a bit lacking for a concert experience. For someone as out-there and colorful as Weird Al, I expected something a little more than just a splattering of close-to-the-original studio recordings, and the show spent more time trying to distract from Yankovic's actual abilities as a singer, accordionist, and performer, instead of letting any of those tangible performing talents and elements shine through.

There were technical issues, as well. It was often hard to make out Yankovic's lyrics, and I'm not sure if it was his enunciation, the acoustics of the space, how his vocals were mixed, or if they were doing a lot of effects and processing on his vocals for some tracks, but something was off. (I was also trying to figure out if they were using prerecorded bits or tracks as well, and can't say for sure).

The middle of the set turned into a bit of whiplash, as Yankovic tore through a sampling of a bunch of different songs, not really giving any of them room to breathe. A short acoustic set finally gave Yankovic a chance to shine on his own: The backing band was still there, but the toned down setting let him show off his vocal range as a musician, something that was, for the most part, otherwise lacking through the performance of pretty straight adaptations of his studio work.

Even Yankovic's infamous accordion was only out for a few songs, and when it was, it was often difficult to hear among the rest of the band. 

Also, for someone who pokes so much fun at entertainers, Yankovic spent very little time actually deconstructing any notions of performing or concerts. Only at the very end of the main set did Yankovic poke fun at musicians and the encores they force onto the audience. But there are so many other aspects about concerts that one can make light of that I was surprised he didn't touch on. 

Perhaps Yankovic wanted to keep the parodies as close to the original artists' songs as possible, but obviously those songs would be played differently live, and Yankovic should have adapted his versions accordingly.
Either way, there needed to be more oomph in the live performance to help expand the songs beyond passive listening experiences. I don't care if Yankovic was dressed exactly the same in the music video for each song — what I cared about was him bringing an excitement and energy to each song that I couldn't find listening to it at home. The visuals should have taken a backseat to the performance, not the other way around, and the balance and focus between those just wasn't where I wanted it to be. 

For the encore, Yankovic took the stage (joined by various Stormtroopers, Boba Fett, and Darth Vader) in a Jedi robe for “The Saga Begins” (probably my favorite Weird Al song) and “Yoda,” the latter of which was the closest to what I had wanted to see all night: A band taking stage and actually performing, not just playing, music.

It was weird. I'm just not so sure it was mandatory.

Critic's Notebook:
-I did get a chuckle when Yankovic started the encore with a call back to a song mentioned in one of the pre-recorded video bits.
– Yankovic was visually interesting: He was always moving in wild, weird, and erratic ways on stage. But again, I'm going to his show for the sound, not his looks. 

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