Over the past 131 years, musical luminaries like Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young have all graced the Carnegie Hall stage. And on Saturday evening, “Weird Al” Yankovic finally joined their ranks when his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour touched down in New York for its grand finale.
Just about five minutes into the set, Yankovic took a pause to soak it in, and even wipe away what appeared to be a genuine tear. “Let me just take a moment to enjoy this,” he told the capacity crowd of 2,800 fans, which included his wife Suzanne Yankovic, manager Jay Levey, Questlove, and many followers that celebrated Halloween a couple of days earlier by dressing up as Al. “It’s always been a dream of mine to one day come to Carnegie Hall and play a bunch of extremely unpopular songs.”
As the title of the tour and this comment suggests, Yankovic didn’t spend the past six months on the road breaking out hit parodies like “Fat,” “Eat It,” and “Bedrock Anthem.” Much like his 2018 run of the same name, this is a tour strictly for the faithful since it focuses almost entirely on original tunes and style pastiches from his deep catalog. These songs may be “unpopular” with the general public, but this crowd included a guy dressed up in a perfect recreation of Al’s “Like a Surgeon” getup, complete with a fake chainsaw. They were ready for anything he threw at them, the more obscure the better.
The show began with a set by Emo Phillips, who has been with Yankovic on the entire tour. The 66-year-old comedian rapid-fired deadpan jokes (“My girlfriend and I almost didn’t have the second date because on the first date I didn’t open the car door for her. I just swam to the surface”) that absolutely killed. Someone at Netflix needs to give this guy a special. He’s a treasure that deserves far more attention.
After a quick break, Al’s band took the stage and kicked things off with the instrumental “Fun Zone” from UHF. Al received a standing ovation when he came out and delivered “Lame Claim to Fame” from his 2014 LP Mandatory Fun. The set bounced around through the past 40 years of Al history, going all the way back to “Nature Trail to Hell” from 1984’s “Weird Al Yankovic in 3-D and touching on other Reagan-era wonders like “One More Minute,” “Velvet Elvis,” and “Good Old Days.”
Unlike his regular show, there were no costume changes or video screens. This put the focus directly on his band, which includes bassist Steve Jay, drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, guitarist Jim West, and keyboardist Rubén Valtierra. They’re a freakishly versatile crew capable of handing any popular style of music from the past half-century. There were no complete parody songs in the set, but there were numerous “style parodies” where they sounded exactly like the Doors (“Craigslist”), Talking Heads (“Dog Eat Dog”), and the White Stripes (“CNR”). And despite the fact he’s played 129 consecutive concerts since April, Yankovic still had the vocal dexterity required to mimic Jim Morrison, David Byrne, Jack White, and even Bob Dylan on the brilliant palindrome tune “Bob.”
Al’s music has always been G-rated, but there are a handful of lines that don’t work quite as well in 2022 as they did in earlier times. And when he reached the line in “Albuquerque” about the “big fat hermaphrodite with a Flock of Seagulls haircut,” he stopped the song cold to address it. “I should probably stop and apologize for using the word hermaphrodite,” he said. “Language is fluid. I understand it’s a slur these days. That was obviously not my intention. It was the Nineties. It was my impression of the time that it was more of a technical, medical term. Basically, all I’m trying to say is this particular character just happens to have male and female reproductive organs as well as a Flock of Seagulls haircut.”
The encore portion of every show on the tour featured a cover song delivered with actual sincerity. Past selections have been Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love,” Cheap Trick’s “Hello There,” and Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.” He went with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” perhaps as a tribute to Carole King and Aretha Franklin since they have both played Carnegie Hall in years past. The night wrapped up with an acoustic medley that featured tiny bits of “Amish Paradise,” “Smells Like Nirvana,” “White & Nerdy,” “Word Crimes,” and “Yoda.” The latter song has closed out just about every Weird Al song for the past four decades, and the sight of a sold-out Carnegie Hall standing up and gleefully belting out the chorus – including a beaming Questlove – was absolutely glorious.
The glory will continue November 4 when Weird: The Al Yankovic Story arrives on Roku. It’s a Walk Hard-style spoof of biopics, and truly one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in years. It should create an entirely new generation of Weird Al fans. Let’s hope he gives them a third incarnation of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour at some point. It’s the Weird Al experience in its purest form, and it deserves yet another encore run.