Sunday, 30 August 2015

30 Years of Weird Al

Last night I caught Weird Al Yankovic's show at the Masonic Theater in San Francisco. I won't pretend it satisfied a long-standing goal of mine to see him play live, but on the other hand I'm glad I finally did - I've been listening to him off and on since I was about seven years old, with a big spike in high school, when he released Alapalooza.

To some extent I thought he'd always remain a relic of the 80s - between the silliness of that music and the rise of music videos, it seemed like the perfect time for him. I always thought he flew under the radar for much of the 90s and early 00s, but then last year he emerged with his first #1 album, Mandatory Fun, so what do I know?

My theory about him is that the kids who were listening to him in the 80s are all grown up now and in a position to buy his music for themselves and for their own kids, whereas before they had to beg their parents for the money (or, like me, had to record it onto cassette tapes). As if to prove my point, the crowd last night was all-ages - there were middle-aged people and small-ish children, and a hard-core of people in their 20s sitting down in the front row who were rocking out to the whole show.

One of the middle-aged folks was my dad, who's appreciated Weird Al about as long as I have. Oddly, we determined that this was probably his first rock concert since he took me and a friend to see REM at Shoreline Amphitheater in 1995 (my first show ever). Even though he didn't recognize a lot of the songs or the source material, I think my dad enjoyed the show - he'd have just appreciated a full rendition of Like a Surgeon, Al's parody of Like a Virgin by Madonna. What we got was a section of the song, done in a medley of other songs, in the style of a barbershop quartet.

That's Al's genius, of course - beyond the way he can change a single word or even letter to turn one song into something strange and hilarious, he also has this gift for setting one type of music to another. Admittedly this is usually polka, but he proved that he can do it more widely by singing a section of Eat It (from Michael Jackson's Beat It) to the tune of Eric Clapton's acoustic rendition of Layla from the Unplugged album. I guess Weird Al's quite rewarding to listen to if you're a music nerd, like me.

Of course, he also treated us to one of his polka medleys, of which my favorite part had to be his section of Sledgehammer by Miley Cyrus, during which he played the video on a giant screen above the stage - just imagine the video with her singing the lyrics, but his voice coming out. And you can see how he's influenced other artists - my favorite example is Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman's band, Hard'n'Phirm, doing a bluegrass-style medley of Radiohead songs:

Anyway, last night's show was the only one he was doing in SF, so I'll just have to wait for the next tour to see him again. But someday I hope to have kids to take to see him - it'll be nice to introduce the now-bygone world of the 80s and 90s to them through him...