With the Rolling Stones in our rear-view mirror and the Eagles about to hit town, two of the most important and influential acts in the history of rock ’n’ roll are reminding all of us of the power of music.
So it was a perfect time for Weird Al Yankovic to show up and remind us not to take it all so seriously and to have some fun.
A few thousand did just that Wednesday night in a sold-out Center for the Performing Arts at the University at Buffalo as the man who re-popularized the parody did his thing for more than two hours.
He’s calling this swing through everywhere the “Mandatory World Tour,” a shout-out to his last album “Mandatory Fun.”
He still is sporting the long locks that have been his trademark for decades, still sporting an assortment of floral designs on his clothes and still taking popular songs and twisting them into comedy gold.
Before the show got underway, an image of military-looking Al greeted the audience from a screen at the back of the stage. Looking like a man trying desperately to appear serious, the image showed him with gold leafs on his collar, four stars on his chest and other wartime paraphernalia. Call him Captain Comedy or perhaps General Goofiness.
When he hit the stage singing his version of “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, the crowd went wild. It appeared to be an older audience, which is not surprising for an artist who first shot to fame before the oldest baby boomer hit 40. But several seats were occupied by fans whose middle school years lay ahead of them.
He followed with “Lame Claim to Fame,” a song from “Mandatory Fun” with these typically Yankovician lyrics: “I had a car that used to belong to Cuba Gooding Jr.’s uncle; a friend of mine in high school had jury duty with Art Garfunkel.”
You have two choices while the craziness engulfs you at a Weird Al show: laugh or sing along. Many people on Wednesday did both.
Weird Al’s influence on the popular culture is enormous, as the audience was reminded through a series of video clips showing either him on a TV show or in a movie, or a mention of him by the cast.
But it’s not all a nostalgia trip; his album last year reached No. 1 and his parody of “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke – “Word Crimes,” a song/lecture about the misuse of grammar and punctuation that should make him the favorite of English teachers everywhere – made it into the Top 40.
The show was light on banter and heavy on costume changes. There had to be at least a dozen – it was like a Cher concert with funnier lyrics – as he re-created the outfits he made famous in MTV-era videos.
Those were the songs people came to hear and they were not disappointed. He did “Fat,” the parody of Michael Jackson’s “Bad”; “Amish Paradise,” from Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise”; and my personal favorite, “Smells Like Nirvana,” a parody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that allegedly had Kurt Cobain and his bandmates in stitches when it came out. He also delivered a medley of some other hits, including the great “I Lost on Jeopardy.”
Al has famously won approval for his parodies from a host of artists, including the above, as well as Joan Jett (“I Love Rocky Road”) and Madonna (“Like a Surgeon”). There have been notable exceptions – Paul McCartney wouldn’t let him do “Live and Let Die” as “Chicken Pot Pie,” the big stick in the mud – but it’s easy to understand why the stars say yes: A Weird Al treatment is a sign of affection and acceptance.
He got plenty of both from an appreciative audience Wednesday night that clearly was hoping for a night of fun and got exactly that.