Growing up as I did (with a father who loved to constantly relive his glory days), I listened to Weird Al a lot. I watched the music video to “Trapped in the Drive-Thru” a million times, played “Virus Alert” on my iPod shuffle and knew all the lyrics to “EBay.” My dad listened to the classics, reminisced about listening to Weird Al on Dr. Demento’s radio show and told me over and over again the story about how, when he was in college, he and Weird Al got lunch together.
So when Weird Al’s Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour came to The State Theatre, obviously my dad and I got tickets.
I’ll admit, while I’ve listened to a few of Al’s more recent singles, I hadn’t truly listened to him since the days of my iPod Shuffle. The tour was also self-described as “scaled-down,” featuring older, original songs rather than parodies. I had a feeling this concert was more for my dad’s generation rather than a generation that never used the streaming services alluded to in “Don’t Download this Song,” never bought strange items from “Craigslist” or “eBay” and didn’t know that “UHF” stands for the Ultra High Frequency analog television broadcasting band. I was wrong.
This was a show for everyone. It was a show for people who liked to laugh. It was a show for people who liked to rock. It was a show for children and adults and whatever in-between category Cornell students fall into.
Weird Al’s hand-picked opener was comedian Emo Philips, whose constant stream of semi-morbid, always-hilarious jokes kept the audience immersed in laughter for the entirety of his set (“I think my ex-wife had weekly lessons with the devil on how to be more evil. I don’t know how much she charged him.” “I got in trouble on a first date because I didn’t open the car door for her. I just swam to the surface.”) He has a CD that appears to be fairly old but which apparently he still sells on tour. I don’t know if it’s any good. I don’t know if people buy CDs anymore. Buy it anyway.
Weird Al’s entrance was as nonchalant as he is: In his signature hair and a Hawaiian shirt, he sat down at the stool he would remain perched on for the rest of the evening, picked up his accordion and played “Midnight Star” off his 1984 album In 3-D.
Following his opener, he asked the audience if they were ready to rock. After he was met with cheers, he declared he wasn’t yet ready to rock and asked the audience to hold on tight. Even with this warning in addition to his tour note that these concerts would not feature the glitz and glam of his earlier tours, the next two hours definitely rocked. They were filled with guitar solos, ballads, bright lights and smoke machines. The audience sang along, stood up abruptly to cheer and laughed at Al’s genius lyrics. Old songs were performed (including less popular songs like “Airplane Amy,” because “we like to perform it”) that had never been played in concert prior to this tour, and familiar hits were played in new styles.
And for the first time, I think I truly understood Weird Al.
There are going to be music snobs out there who tell me I’ll never truly understand Weird Al and I’m interpreting this entire tour incorrectly and I don’t deserve to fully grasp the power of his music. There, I saved you the trouble of writing your complaints out for yourself. Because I’m serious — I got it.
I used to think Weird Al was a comedian who was a genius with words and who put clever stories to classic tunes. This concert made me realize Weird Al is a musician who is a genius with words and puts the two together in a way that might make you laugh.
What amazed me about this show was that it was a rock concert. It was a setlist filled with ballads and head-banging jams that showcased a range of talent from each musician on the stage. Weird Al just happened to be singing about Craigslist while this was all happening.
I’ve never seen Weird Al’s past tours, but if I had to guess, I’d say he stripped down the props and the costumes to put the focus on the music rather than the comedy and the showmanship. Al’s announcement of the tour last fall described it as “a musical palate cleanser” that he was performing for himself, the band and the fans who had waited 35 years for a show of this nature.
While the majority of the show, as promised, featured original works, Weird Al ended the set with a medley of some of his most famous parodies. Keeping true to the rest of his set, though, he mixed up the genres of the songs — “Eat It” was performed as a heartstring-tugging ballad, “Amish Paradise” featured a Latin percussion beat. The encore emphasized the concert’s commitment to musicality above showmanship with a straightforward cover of Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge” (I don’t think I have ever seen my dad happier than during that song).
Weird Al has come across as almost apologetic about this tour, posting warnings about its stripped-down content, explaining it could be unpredictable and sloppy and emphasizing that it’s not for everyone. I could not disagree more. This tour needs no apology; it’s unabashedly true to form (or at least what I now see as Al’s true form) and everyone will find some sort of pleasure in its format. If you missed it in Ithaca, go catch it somewhere else. This tour is Weird Al as you’ve never heard him before — no matter if that was on Dr. Demento or your iPod shuffle — and is hopefully not as the last we’ll hear him in this style.
Olivia Lutwak is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]