I go to a lot of concerts at Red Butte Garden—as the music editor at this publication, it’s a job requirement. So, I have seen Red Butte crowds at lots of different shows, and though each of them vary in their nuance, most of them look mostly alike. Most shows are full of what I like to call “wine-and-cheesers.” This was not the case on Friday night for Weird Al’s sold-out show.
Admittedly, I am, at best, a casual Weird Al listener. I was a child in the 80s, so I’ve seen his videos and I know his songs from that era. But, to be honest, I don’t listen to a lot of pop music, so I don’t even know the songs he’s parodying anymore. But, I do have a preteen son, and every so often he often stumbles across Weird Al videos on the internet and shares them with me.
I guess what I’m saying is, I have a limited knowledge of Weird Al’s catalog. I was at a distinct disadvantage from the beginning.
And when I walked into Red Butte Garden and saw a bunch of grown men and women (and their children) wearing tin foil hats and maroon berets I knew that I was suddenly a stranger in a strange land—even on what I consider to be my own home turf.
And so, with no opener, the band came onstage at 7:46 and the large video screen that was soon to become a key component of the concert showed the man himself strolling through Red Butte Garden wearing an outfit of many colors, holding a wireless microphone and singing “Tacky.”
There was little banter. There was not enough accordion. There were a lot of wardrobe changes—facilitated by clips shown on the large screen behind him to engage the crowd while the entire band changed before nearly every song. They wore Devo-like yellow jumpsuits and red hats for “Dare to be Stupid,” Al wore sweats and rode a Segway scooter for “White and Nerdy” (during which Donny Osmond danced on the big screen behind him), and he donned a fat suit (really?! We’re still fat shaming in 2016, I guess) for, of course, “Fat.” And on, and on, and on, and on.
In my research before this show I found that the setlist is the same in every town, and in the same order. The costumes are the same. The jokes are all the same. So, I knew exactly what I’d get at this show (and I don’t see much reason to regurgitate what many reviewers before me have already said).
But, I think that his fans knew what they were getting, too. They were on their feet the whole time. The people behind me knew all the words to all of the clips on the screen—all Weird Al related in one way or another, of course—and all the words to all the songs.
And that’s the thing: In addition to being the same guy night after night on this tour, he’s the same Al he was in 1986. He’s got boundless energy and enthusiasm. He’s still so uncool that he’s magically cool. And he’s still the funniest guy in the room. I guess.
But here’s the thing I didn’t expect: Al’s band is good. He’s been touring with the same group for a long time, and while he sometimes has the benefit of tools to distort or change his voice for the style of music he’s parodying, his band doesn’t have that option. These guys are just solid, well-rounded musicians. And in no moment of the show was the musicianship more evident than an acoustic medley of Al songs, in the spirit of Clapton’s “Layla.”
And the stage production’s attention to detail is astounding. The costuming is well done. It is a finely-tuned machine. No wonder it’s the same in every city. Why mess with perfection?
After Al gave himself a stage exit, borrowing heavily from James Brown (cape and all), he did come back on stage, with his band and more—presumably roadies—all dressed as Star Wars Characters to sing “The Saga Begins” and “Yoda.” It was a fitting send off, for everyone involved. The crowd loved it. And I, probably the only person on Earth who has never seen a Star Wars film, didn’t get it. Just like I didn’t really get the rest of the show. But, Al isn’t doing his shows for me and I get that. I respect that. It’s just a club I don’t belong to.
I guess that makes me a wine-and-cheeser.