Published Aug 22, 2019This review starts back in March of 1995, when a father drove his 14-year-old boy from Kamloops to the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver to experience his first-ever concert. That show was part of "Weird Al" Yankovic's Al-Can Tour — and it fulfilled all of my hopes and dreams. Even Worse was the first tape I ever bought with my own money, combining my early infatuation with humour and a burgeoning interest in music that eventually landed me here, reviewing last night's (August 21) "Strings Attached" tour stop at Victoria's Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena.
A few things have changed since 1995. On the bad side, the parodies of Michael Jackson, which were a staple of Yankovic's shows in those days, have been dropped from his set list since the Leaving Neverland documentary made the disgraced King of Pop's problematic nature impossible to ignore. Granted, this may not be a permanent subtraction, but it is for the greater good at this moment.
On the downright astounding side is that as that goofball Yankovic approaches his 60th birthday, he has become more popular than ever. And his status allowed him to plan a tour with a full orchestra, perfectly threading the needle between high art and lowbrow. When the his backing symphony took the stage for a warm up set, they hammered this concept home, delivering a brief series of famous cinematic themes — mostly those of John Williams — as opposed to a classical repertoire.
Starting off with "The Raiders March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark was an inspired choice, given that Yankovic's only feature film, 1989's tragically underrated UHF, starts off with an extended Indiana Jones send-up. It felt like the orchestra was still finding its footing for that composition, but a take on Lalo Schifrin's "Mission Impossible" possessed more groove, and the "Theme from Superman" was delivered with peak boisterousness, culminating in a dynamic take on "The Throne Room and End Title" from the original Star Wars.
Continuing the blend of high and low, the main set began with a brief nod to Beethoven's fifth symphony. This gave way to the "Fun Zone" jam from the UHF soundtrack while Yankovic's band filtered out onstage. Impressively, one of the things that hasn't changed since 1995 is his band, as drummer Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz, bassist Steve Jay and guitarist Jim "Kimo" West have all been with him since the early '80s, while keyboardist Rubén Valtierra joined the fun in '91.
Yankovic kicked off his set with a medley of "I Lost on Jeopardy," "I Love Rocky Road" and "Like a Surgeon," but rather than being the expected uptempo polka barrage, they were instead channelled through a Richard Cheese mode of lounge swagger. The video cameo from Don Pardo in the swing version of "Jeopardy" elicited a joyous response from the crowd, while Yankovic hitting an epic sustained note in the swanky ballad version of "Surgeon" earned him a big hoot of appreciation. When I saw him back in '95, he was battling a cold and couldn't quite hit the highs, but this opening announced that he was on his game this night.
From that point on, I couldn't have plotted a better set if it was all up to me. He played "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota," a brilliant quasi-original song written in the style of Harry Chapin and Gordon Lightfoot that jokingly claims this here is what America is all about — but is actually true, when you think about it. The three-part female vocal harmonies from a trio of back-up singers underscored the song's southern Muscle Shoals-esque charm.
Wearing a red smoking jacket with leopard trim, Yankovic prowled the front row and gently smacked a girl in the face with a fork while oozing out that Elvis-like doo-wop baritone for "One More Minute" from 1985's Dare to Be Stupid. He returned to the floor later for "Tacky," and while he certainly gave many people the business, there was a bit of feedback creeping in throughout that one.
The orchestra generally sunk into the aural texture, but there were several moments when it was essential. The 41-piece ensemble was certainly in full bluster for "Weasel Stomping Day," for which the full Robot Chicken video played on the big screen behind them. They thoroughly supported "Jackson Park Express," while the marching band theme for "Harvey the Wonder Hamster" simply could not have been done properly without them.
But their finest moment arguably came in the rendition of "Jurassic Park" from 1993's Alapalooza. Given that it's a take on the Richard Harris classic "MacArthur Park," being supported by a full orchestra was the best possible way to experience it. Hilariously, Yankovic spent the song's famously lengthy bridge sitting on a chair, wiping his face with a sweat towel, enjoying a cocktail and mucking around on his phone.
The nearer it came to the end of the show, the more intense costume changes occurred. For "Smells Like Nirvana," Yankovic, West and Jay donned their flannel grunge outfits, while the back-up trio twirled red pompoms. Following a video montage of almost every pop culture mention of "Weird Al" — on Johnny Carson, Friends, 30 Rock, The Cleveland Show, King of the Hill, Johnny Bravo, Naked Gun, Letterman, Family Guy and the like — everyone up front came out in Devo energy dome hats and yellow hazmat suits to perform "Dare to Be Stupid." After that, the girls donned bonnets, while the rest of band wore black suits, hats, and beards for "Amish Paradise," the Coolio beat bolstered by the lush string section.
While it was teased in the orchestra's intro set, the encore went full-Star Wars. Valtierra dressed like the Emperor, and played with the crowd noises for a spell, after which a smattering of storm troopers and TIE fighter pilots ascended, alongside a Tusken Raider and eventually Yankovic, West and Jay dressed as Jedi. As fans might have guessed from there, they performed their "American Pie" parody "The Saga Begins," and after the orchestra gave a nod to the proper "Star Wars: Main Title," Yankovic played accordion for the first and only time on "Yoda," the very same song with which he ended his set at the Vogue in 1995. It's comforting to know that, while people love him more than ever, "Weird Al" is the same as he ever was — a square peg for a round world, there to remind us to take life a little less seriously.