It is easy to write Yankovic off as a parody artist if you refuse to look behind his biggest hits.
Portland, OR 05/26/2018
It must be tiring for “Weird Al” Yankovic to be on the road. His last tour, in support of 2014’s Mandatory Fun and featuring more than 200 shows, was a multimedia assault of costume changes and video montage, a huge production that surely required tons of choreography and very little room for error. I imagine such a heavy schedule could feel stifling for a performer, and in the three times I’ve seen Yankovic over the past 10 years, there was very little variation for the repeat concert-goer. Each of those concerts was impressive and inspiring, especially for a parody artist who is finally receiving his critical and commercial due.
Enter the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, aka “Weird Al’s” attempt to play smaller concerts with no costumes, props or screens. For those looking to buy tickets, Yankovic has been very upfront about how these more intimate shows would feature virtually no parody songs and focus on his original work. While this news could be disappointing to a Yankovic first-timer, this change of pace is refreshing news for those who have seen the musician over the years.
A few songs into the first of Yankovic’s two sold-out Portland concerts at Revolution Hall, the singer commented on how much he really liked playing in the converted high school auditorium. Featuring Yankovic’s long-time band, the show felt more like an “Unplugged” performance than the multi-media spectacle of previous shows. Yankovic, dressed in a signature loud shirt, spent most of the evening sitting on a stool as he tore through 90-minute set featuring mainly original songs from his multi-decade career.
Likely enamored with this newfound freedom, Yankovic has been playing wildly different sets each night. While we didn’t get “One More Minute,” despite frequent entreaties from the audience, we did hear stone-cold Yankovic classics such as “Melanie,” “Dog Eat Dog” and even “Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung,” featuring the titular character’s breathing via the air valve on Yankovic’s accordion. I haven’t thought of some of these songs in decades and it’s amazing just how lodged they are in my brain.
It is easy to write Yankovic off as a parody artist if you refuse to look behind his biggest hits. However, Yankovic’s true genius comes out in his originals. He channeled a perfect Jim Morrison on “Craigslist” and his David Byrne impression was spot-on. While the humor isn’t on the surface as in his parody songs, sometimes digging deeper for the comedy in songs such as “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” and “UHF” is rewarding work.
Of course, Yankovic couldn’t turn his back on parody, and performed a set-closing medley featuring some of his most beloved pieces. Each night on the tour the band has returned and done a straightforward reading of a different cover song. We got Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll,” a song Yankovic ripped into with relish. Yankovic finished the show with “The Saga Begins,” allowing the audience one last parody for retiring for the night. If anything, the performance left us all jealous of the folks who had tickets for the second night, wondering just how different their show would be.