“Weird Al” allows us to let down our guard, embrace the inner nerd who likes Jurassic Park and comics.
Edgefield Concerts on the Lawn, Troutdale, OR
It figures that the line for ice cream at a “Weird Al” Yankovic concert would be longer than the one for beer.
As people waited for close to 20 minutes for a cone, the drinkers sauntered right up to the booths selling beer and liquor, the inverse of the usual scene at an outdoor summer concert. It was a lovely evening in Troutdale, a small town outside of Portland on the lip of the Columbia River Gorge. People dressed in costumes and many others with little kids in tow jockeyed to find a spot on the lawn. Just your typical scene at a “Weird Al” show.
Until recently, the performance at a “Weird Al” show also seemed typical. Yankovic had been putting on the same concert with costume changes, video montages and a very similar setlist for years. However, last year, Yankovic mounted his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour where he eschewed all costumes and videos, played small rooms and focused only on his original compositions. It was a refreshing change and allowed fans to see Yankovic as a musician greater than his parodies.
This summer, Yankovic is back with his Strings Attached tour, which is basically the opposite of last year’s jaunt. Not only is he backed by his usual band, but in each city a local symphony orchestra also shares the stage. That’s right. At some points there were more than 50 people on the stage. Talk about going from something stripped down to something massive.
The orchestra warmed up first, playing selections from Indiana Jones, Superman and Star Wars. Yankovic knows his demographic. During the Star Wars medley, the guy in back of me narrated from which specific moment in the film each selection came from. People yelled and cheered. Somewhere, the Star Trek fans felt slighted.
Yankovic took the stage to massive applause and began the show with a medley of “I Lost on Jeopardy,” “I Love Rocky Road” and “Like a Surgeon.” Before the tour, Yankovic said that he would be removing all Michael Jackson parodies from his set to make sure fans didn’t feel uncomfortable, and he stuck by that promise. Changing around the setlist was a good thing as the first half of the show presented fans with a lot of songs that Yankovic normally doesn’t normally include. It was a thrill to see “One More Minute,” “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” and even “Weasel Stomping Day.”
The orchestra added tasteful flourishes to the music but never overpowered Yankovic nor his band. However, the biggest surprise was the addition of backing singers Lisa Popeil, Monique Donnelly and Scottie Haskell. Their voices made the songs richer and their performance tucked in well with Yankovic’s longtime band.
In the second half, the setlist returned to the sort of show Yankovic used to play, with fan favorites such as “Smells Like Nirvana,” “White & Nerdy” and “Amish Paradise” performed in full costume. Even if Yankovic recycles some of the same videos each time out, it is still so much fun to watch. Not many performers can make so many different generations of people smile. Families bonded. Punks in leather jackets nodded along. The dorks gasped when a phalanx of stormtroopers took the stage during the encore. There is truly something for everyone, except for the jaded.
“Weird Al” allows us to let down our guard, embrace the inner nerd who likes Jurassic Park and comics. You don’t have to be cool. It’s okay to get an ice cream instead of a beer. For one warm summer evening, Yankovic dares us to be stupid. And we oblige.