Reviewer: Lisa Purchase Kelly
Venue: The Temple Theatre
My brush-with-fame claim: I earned my Bachelor’s Degree from the very university where Weird Al recorded his first official single, in the men’s bathroom in the Graphic Arts building in 1979. (My other 80s-version brushes with fame include chatting with Rick Moranis at a pizza joint in SLO, and my toddler briefly joining David Hasselhoff for breakfast. I digress …)
There’s a commemorative plaque there and everything. The “My Bologna” single recorded there was released on Christmas Day, 1979 (a month after The Knack’s concert at Cal Poly) and Yankovic was given a six-month contract. The rest is history. Forty-four years later, with 12 million albums sold, multiple gold and platinum albums, and 5 Grammys (of 16 nominations), millions of people are still listening as the hits keep coming.
“Weird Al” Yankovic played to a packed house at the beautiful Temple Theater in downtown Saginaw Monday night, February 6th 2023. Many in the audience had waited over ten months, holding on to their tickets from the Covid-postponed original date last year, catching one of the final pre-Europe stops on Weird Al’s The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.
I was a Weird Al fan in middle school, as is befitting. I would listen to this new-found wonder with my friends while playing D&D or reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You know, being cool. I had the 45 single Another One Rides the Bus, and I can tell you what was on the B side of that record. I could sing it for you. After that I enjoyed his ridiculousness through high school, watching his immensely popular parodies on MTV.
But by college I was presumably busy doing other things and I pretty much fell off the Weird Al wagon and mentally pigeon-holed him as part of my adolescence. I came to last night’s concert with expectations of mere adolescent humor and general silliness. I brought two 15-year-old boys, just to make it worth my while.
What I did NOT expect was genuinely good music and astonishingly clever lyrics.
Turns out Al Yankovic has a Voice. He’s a vocal chameleon, providing not only the sneering nasal whine he’s best known for, but bringing deep vocal resonance and warmth to his original songs. His band of almost 40 years (Steve Jay on (mostly) bass & vocals, Rubén Valtierra on keyboards & vocals, Jim West on (mostly) guitar & vocals, and Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz on drums & vocals) provides outstanding musical accompaniment to Yankovic’s ambitious lyrics.
This concert came with a warning label: “Please note: this is a scaled-down tour with limited production (no costumes, props, or video screens) in smaller theatres and more intimate settings, and Al’s setlist will be comprised almost entirely of his original (non-parody) songs.”
The five of them played the entire concert sitting down. There was no flailing (well, just a little flailing) and no buffoonery (well, maybe a little buffoonery). What there was was clever lyrical antics paired with good musicianship and solid vocals. Some of that beautiful music happened to be on an accordion or cowbell, sure, but beautiful musicianship nonetheless.
The songs Yankovic chose for this tour are his personal favorites, the ones he’s not tired of playing yet. So instead of the in-your-face “Eat It” and “Like a Surgeon” we got just under two hours of lesser known but lyrically superior tunes that took the audience by surprise. At least this audience.
All this is starting to make it sound like a boring normal evening of good music. LOL, no.
Weird Al was still … weird.
The accordion was on already by the second song. We were the victims of hyped drum and bass solos that consisted of a single note. A coffee house on Tittabawassee and Baby Shark both managed to show up in their brilliant Doors style-parody “Craigslist”. There was still a lot of humor; it was just a little more sophisticated or interesting than I expected.
And the crux of the whole thing, the thing that makes Weird Al weird, is his ability to continuously subvert expectations and his utter willingness to take a joke too far. He pushes a joke so far it tips over into absurdity, and the absurdity becomes the joke.
Take, for example, the entire encore.
First of all, they never even left the stage before the encore. They just wandered around. Al may have made a phone call. When they finally acknowledged and conceded to the applause, they hyped up the audience about what they would play, and then sat down and played … the Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over.” Straight. No parody, just a straight cover. Where’s the joke? The joke is that there is no joke.
Then they launched into an amazing medley Amish Paradise/Smells Like Nirvana/White and Nerdy/Word Crimes/Yoda, ending with “the Yoda Chant”.
This is impossible to describe, but “Yoda” (Clapton’s “Lola”) morphed into a highly choreographed acapella Hawaiian War Chant (with pieces of Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow, Grim Grinning Ghosts, Frère Jacque, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and a lot of stray utterances thrown in for good measure). The chant part of the number lasted almost FIVE MINUTES. It went from “Wow this is different and interesting,” to “Man this is really weird and funny!” to “What is even happening right now?!” It just kept getting more frenetic and absurd, while remaining perfectly harmonized and synchronized between all five band members. It was an amazing bit of lunacy to end the show.
I’m going to go find my copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide and roll up a new D&D character now.
(p.s. Emo Philips was delightful too, and far surpassed my expectations for the opener. But I haven’t got room to get into all that now. And apparently I need to get out more … maybe I just don’t know what I’m missing!)
If this review makes you want to see Weird Al on this tour, too bad. You’re probably too late, as the tour leaves for Europe on the 10th and then wraps up in Hawaii. If you drive to Detroit right now you could possibly catch their very last tour date in the continental U.S. tonight.
HOWEVER … this review should make you want to see more shows like this at the Temple Theater. We have an absolute gem right here in our downtown, and this show was a perfect fit. Every seat was filled. The box office, security, front-of-house, and concession personnel were efficient, friendly, and thorough. From everything I could see, everything ran smoothly and a good time was had by all. I think everyone left there with a smile on their face. (Someone will definitely pop in here to comment and tell me they were miserable, but I can only report what I saw.) By any metric, this was a success. If you haven’t checked out an event at the Temple Theater lately, please find an excuse to get there. And I hope they add more events like this one to their calendar. Everyone in Saginaw and beyond should be spending time there regularly.