At this point, the word “weird” has transcended its meaning like “geek” or “nerd” at least in pop culture.
No longer are those who love comic books or “Star Trek” given wedgies or seeking shelter in their parents’ basements (as much).
These perceived nerdy things are now prevalent and generally socially acceptable. Along similar sentiment, it’s no wonder that pop-rock-comedy artist “Weird Al” Yankovic is back in the forefront of music.
In the past year, Yankovic, who parodies and creates homages of popular songs and artists’ styles along with creating original tunes, celebrated his first No. 1 Billboard album last July.
Since then he’s been on countless TV shows, appeared in numerous publications including a guest editor spot in MAD Magazine and he kicked off his Mandatory World Tour (more on this later). But Al* and his talented band have been at his schtick for more than 30 years and his song “Word Crimes” notched him another Top 40 single. This means he’s had a hit in each decade since the 1980s.
Maybe you’re a casual listener or a diehard fan or completely ignorant but even in our small corner of Earth you can find his albums despite CD sections drying up in department stores nationwide.
He’s morphed with the times and covered multiple genres and still feels fresh.
Even though some of his references feel dated in earlier albums thanks to current technology, he’s become a pop-culture historian of sorts. Even an album release date can be a hindrance as some of the Top 40 radio hits and their artists come and go before his rendition hits the airwaves.
But his fans, including myself, often prefer his takes. My buddies and I typically buy his albums their first week out and Al often comes up in conversation along with quotes from his 1989 feature film “UHF.”
Al was actually my first album, a cassette tape of “Bad Hair Day” featuring hits like “Amish Paradise” and “Gump.”
But I was familiar with his style from friends who owned his previous two albums — “Off the Deep End” and “Alapalooza” and I’d get listens here and there.
One of my many memorable Al moments is learning the lyrics to “Harvey the Wonder Hamster” on a field trip from my friend Tim. We’d go on to sing it together on another trip later in the school year.
In a way, Al helped me throw caution to the wind. Earlier this summer, I was caught blaring his newest album “Mandatory Fun” while driving and a car pulled up next to me at the stoplight. They must have heard an accordion or a familiar nasal tone because they were yelling “Turn it up!” So I did. With Al’s music, you can’t help but sing aloud.
Among three of my friends, we always listened to Al on car trips. One song we always came to was Al’s original “Nature Trail to Hell,” a ridiculous throwback to the slasher movies of the 1980s. I can hear us singing off-key and laughing every time I listen to it. I’ll never forget our friend Brian made a point not to swear and he felt singing “Nature Trail to Hell” was swearing. His solution was to sing his own version adding “h-e-double hockey sticks” or the letter “L.”
On the road
Luckily, I was able to catch Al play one of the last North American dates of his Mandatory Tour on Sept. 14 at the Washington State (Puyallup) Fair.
Hearing “Nature Trail to Hell” live was a long shot, but on the two-hour trip I listened through a few of his albums and even wore one of his shirts “Weird Al Is My Homeboy” from when I saw him in 2008.
Prior to the show I had enough time to grab a scone and I stumbled upon the “Weird Al” VIP section where a few fans were walking out to find their concert seats.
Husband and wife Scott and Gina of Joint Base Lewis-McChord said they’ve been fans for years, particularly Scott who used to have all of Al’s tapes. This was their first time seeing Al though.
Gina said the show was a gift for Scott from Father’s Day and that they encourage their 4-year-old daughter to enjoy music by listening to Al’s music and showing his videos to her.
Fans like us all had different exposure to Al’s music and I’ve found we all have our favorites. In a survey of my friends, none of us have the same top songs, which I think shows the broad appeal and expansiveness of Al’s discography.
Scott and Gina hoped to hear more of Al’s recent hits like “White and Nerdy” and “Word Crimes” and Al didn’t disappoint.
Hit the stage
Al’s tour began in May but he didn’t lack any noticeable energy especially for a Monday.
His instrumental song “Fun Zone” from “UHF” buzzed the speakers bringing the hair up on my arms (I was cold) to start and moments later Al appeared on the giant screens reenacting his “Tacky” parody of “Happy” by Pharrell Williams as he walked through the fairgrounds to the concert venue.
This was my third time seeing him with my first go at the Oregon State Fair in 1999 with my friend Matthew and in 2008 with friends Brian and Mike, at the fair again.
At the Washington State Fair I was able to stand center stage at the sound booth and take it in while snapping pics and grinning.
The show’s formula felt familiar with Al and his band wearing far-out costumes relating to his songs interspersed with various videos of his cameos on TV and spliced interviews with celebrities like Eminem and Celine Dion.
Al and company poured through their decades of work from a newer favorite “Lame Claim to Fame” to “Smells Like Nirvana” to staples “The Saga Begins” and “Yoda.”
I avoided Internet spoilers about the setlist and thoroughly enjoyed his never-ending medley and a stripped down acoustic medley with more of his hits like “Eat It” and “Like a Surgeon.”
To think anyone could leave a “Weird Al” show disappointed is more absurd than his lyrics.
Speaking with another fan, Kari Schilling of Lacey, after the show, she said nothing can top Al’s shows.
“Weird Al” shows are a coming-of-age experience in her family as her husband David’s first concert was seeing Al in the early 1990s. They even brought their two sons Calvin, 12, and Alton, 9, for their first concert to see Al, too.
“It was totally awesome,” Calvin said.
The two brothers say they’ve been listening for a while and that their favorites are “Albuquerque,” an 11-plus minute rock ballad, and “Eat It.” Despite those songs coming out long before they were born, Al’s appeal is for everyone.
One of the best parts, aside from the show, was seeing and hearing people laugh to Al’s lyrics and bits probably for the first time.
In another post-show interview, friends David and John of Olympia have been Al’s fans for a while but it was David’s first time seeing him and John’s fourth.
John said Al’s shows have gotten better each time he’s seen him.
David said he was pleased Al played songs off his older albums, too.
But did he like the show?
“Hell yes with a capital H,” David said.
I would agree.
“H-E-Double Hockey Sticks, yeah!”
For more on “Weird Al,” visit http://weirdal.com. For further reading, check out an article by Mayim Bialik (“Big Bang Theory”) here: http://groknation.com/hollywood/loving-weird-al-yankovic-with-no-apologies/.
* Referring to Yankovic as Al felt more appropriate than sticking to AP style. I do feel slightly guilty after thinking of his song “Word Crimes” in relation to my journalistic standards.
Reach reporter Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.