Weird Al Yankovic only sang about one minute of his 1988 classic “Lasagna” at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey last night, but he made it count. Clutching an accordion, Yankovic delivered the song (to the tune of “La Bamba”) with the same look of crazed intensity in his eyes that Bruce Springsteen has when he belts out the beginning of “Backstreets.” Now, it’s pretty tough to be hysterically funny when singing a G-rated song about lasagna. In fact, Weird Al might be the only man on the planet who can pull it off. The man is a national treasure.
Weird Al fans are the kind of people who cheer for songs long before the band plays a single note. They can tell what’s coming next solely by the costume the band is wearing when they walk onstage after video interludes. If they have on long beards, it’s time for “Amish Paradise.” Flannel shirts mean “Smells Like Nirvana” and pocket protectors mean “White and Nerdy.”
The show is as rehearsed as much as any Broadway play. It doesn’t vary one note from night to night, but nobody expects him to pull a Pearl Jam and yank out “Taco Grande” without adequate preparation. One of Weird Al’s wonderful contradictions is how seriously he takes the absurd. If you talk to him offstage, he’s as serious as a heart attack. It goes a long way towards explaining his longevity. At the show, he parodies R.E.M., the White Stripes, Michael Jackson, the Knack, Dire Straits and many other acts that he’s somehow managed to outlast. The “Eat It” guy was supposed to quickly fade into obscurity along with every other novelty act in history, but somehow we’re three decades after “My Bologna” and he’s as popular as ever.
(Incidentally, I didn’t have time to grab dinner before the show, and the only offering at the concession stand was a bag of Doritos. A little bag of Doritos isn’t a very satisfying dinner – and a Weird Al concert is the wrong place to go when you’re hungry. I could practically taste the lasagna, the rye, the kaiser, the bologna and even the ding-dongs from the “Fat” video.)
Unfortunately, some of the newer songs don’t measure up to the classics. “Skipper Dan” – an original about a frustrated actor who works as a tour guide at a jungle theme park – barely elicited a chuckle. His Green Day spoof “Canadian Idiot” is also disappointing, and his Lady Gaga tribute “Perform This Way” fails to deliver a punch. His White Stripes-inspired “Charles Nelson Reilly” does score some laughs, but the jokes about the amazingly invincible Match Game panelist seem awfully similar to the Chuck Norris jokes from a few years back. But “Party In The CIA” (to the tune of “Party In The USA”) proves he’s still got his chops, and “White and Nerdy” from 2006 remains one of the best songs in his vast catalog.
During a long medley of his older songs, Al sang his 1984 deep cut “Theme From Rocky XIII.” It’s about an elderly, retired Rocky working in a restaurant. Twenty-two years after that song’s release, Sylvester Stallone actually made a movie about a elderly, retired Rocky working in a restaurant. Does anybody need more proof that Weird Al is a prophet? If Ghandi II ever hits the big screen, he’ll prove it beyond any doubt.
Weird Al shows have as many rituals as a Jimmy Buffett or AC/DC concert. There’s always cheerleaders for “Smells Like Nirvana,” he’s always going to close out the main set singing “Fat” in a fat suit and there’s always a clip from UHF. This time around, he showed the Wheel of Fish scene from his 1989 film. A huge percent of the audience knew every line, and they screamed out “Stupid! You’re so stupid!” with incredible glee. It’s well past time for Weird Al to make another movie. It’ll be impossible to top his debut, but he needs to try.
As always, the show ended with an encore of Yankovic’s two Star Wars songs. This time around, he had members of the crew dressed as storm troopers and one as Darth Vader. It kicked off with “The Saga Begins,” which tells the entire story of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace to the tune of “American Pie.” Lines like “we caught a ride back to Naboo ’cause Queen Amidala wanted to” make me laugh every time. Things wrapped up with “Yoda.” It’s a parody of “Lola” by the Kinks and Weird Al must have performed it well over 1,000 times by this point, but you’d never know that by watching the passion and energy he pours into every line.