I should take this opportunity to remind you that I do not consider myself a journalist and thus feel no obligation to maintain a façade of non-bias. There is definitely bias here. That bias is why I shelled out for the VIP package and a chance to meet the man in Augusta, GA last weekend for his ridiculously self-indulgent, ill-advised vanity tour. (With special guest Emo Philips, who, by incredible coincidence, is another of my favorite humans.) The only way it could have been more attractive is if one of my favorite comics was playing the same theater two nights before. And she did.
Stop Draggin' my Car Around
My adventure begins, as most tales do, in Augusta, Georgia. Why? Because it was the closest his tour was coming to Florida. Why didn't he come to Florida? Probably because it's Florida. There's a reason we have the reputation that we do. I can't really be mad at him, but I was frustrated. So I left the swamp and drove for several hours to reach Augusta and The Miller Theater. (He was also going to Atlanta, but I'll be damned if I ever drive those streets again. Not even if I'm on fire.) After the show I learned that there were over a hundred of us Floridians there that night. It seems if Al will not go to the swamp, the swamp must go to Al.
The concert was set for Saturday night, but I went up early to catch another show. Comedian Kathleen Madigan was scheduled for Thursday night and—what are the odds?—she's one of my favorite comics working today. Completely worth the extra hotel time. This was shaping up to be a great week.
Everything You Know Is Wrong
Here is what you need to know about Al's show on this ridiculously self-indulgent, ill-advised vanity tour. "This is a scaled-down tour in smaller, more intimate theaters, with limited production (no costumes, props, or video screens) and Al's set list will be comprised almost entirely of his original (non-parody) songs." If you are a Weird Al fan, you need to see this show. Even if you have seen him in concert before, you have not seen this. You're not going to hear Eat It... not exactly. What you will hear is—you know what? I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start the evening at the beginning.
The VIP tickets get you into a special pre-show presentation, Weird Al Jeopardy. Contestants are selected at random and come on stage to play this screwed up trivia game. Booing wrong answers was heavily encouraged. I faced a difficult choice. Should I try to win because I'm an overly competitive trivia freak or should I try to lose because I want the honor of telling my friends "I lost on Jeopardy"? It turned out to be moot, I didn't get called. It was a fun routine anyway. And I did get a year's supply of Turtle Wax.
Dare to Be Stupid
Once they let the less important people in, the show started with Emo Philips. I have actually seen Emo live twice before. I have a rare VHS tape of an early concert. I even used one of his routines as a dramatic reading once in college. In other words, I'm a fan. I hoped and prayed I would get to see him at the Meet & Greet, but alas, that was not my fate.
Emo is an acquired taste, much like his friend Al. I always enjoy hearing audiences as they experience Emo for the first time. They start with an expression of "what the hell is going on?" By the end of it, though, they sound like they just discovered something they did not even know they needed. You could tell that after his thirty-minute set he had a new legion of fans ready to go.
"I'm divorced now. I hate being divorced. I didn't want to be divorced. I wanted to be a widower."
I first heard Emo Philips on the now legendary Dr. Demento radio show many years ago. I was led to the Dr. Demento radio show by Weird Al, so they have always been linked for me. And not just for me. Emo has been in a handful of Al's videos and even in his movie, UHF. The fact that he is the opening act on this ridiculously self-indulgent, ill-advised vanity tour is just too perfect.
First World Problems
Soon, it's time for the main event. Two yellow spotlights illuminate an accordion at center stage as the fog machine slowly fills the area with mist. (A mist which would spill out and end up triggering the smoke alarm halfway through the show. The emergency lights came on, the work lamps flooded the stage and the house, and the stage lights all dimmed. It was really a surreal moment, especially when the band all looked around and Al said, "So, should we keep playing?" Once the lack of fire was verified, that's just what they did. They got through one song, "Driving a Truck," before the lights returned to normal.)
Al came out and sat on a stool at center stage for the entire show. And it was fantastic. It truly is an intimate show by concert standards and the set list was filled with a plethora of surprises. I won't give the full set list here (every show is different) but I will go over a few highlights. The show opened with "One More Minute," a real fan favorite. The absolute showstopper was "Albuquerque," a twelve-minute song that was even longer when performed live. There are a few parodies, but they are not like anything you've heard before.
Just because I'm a fan, don't think I consider every song to be gold. Even Al would introduce some songs with, "I apologize for this next song," or, "This one is no one's favorite, but it's fun to play, and that's what this tour is all about." Even "Velvet Elvis," a song toward the bottom of my personal list, was amazing live in concert. And that is what this tour is all about. I never expected to see Mr. Frump in his Iron Lung on stage, but I did and it was hilarious.
Al is also performing straight covers on this tour. From what I can tell, he picks a special cover for each location. Ours was Peaches by The Presidents of the United States (because Augusta). I need to take a minute and bring attention to his band. They are easily the most underrated musicians on Earth, part of the curse of working with a comedy act. But when you listen to them play everything from hard rock to surf rock to the delta blues and beyond (and transition seamlessly to do it) you have to acknowledge that they are something really special. Drummer Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz, bassist Steve Jay, and guitarist Jim "Kimo" West have been with Al since the early 80s. Keyboardist Rubén Valtierra is the newbie, joining in 1991. They are just an amazing band, consummate professionals that can play anything.
The ridiculously self-indulgent, ill-advised vanity tour is continuing through June. Do yourself a favor and see this one. You don't have to be a fan for over 30 years to appreciate this one. In fact, I was encouraged by seeing so many teens and even kids in the crowd. Age is no barrier to Weird Al fandom. There's no gate keeping, there's no scandals, it's just a great rock and comedy show.
White & Nerdy
Why am I talking about this on a comic book site? Weird Al has been a part of the geek cultural zeitgeist for decades. He's appeared in a variety of comics as well as MAD Magazine. Al's a regular at the bigger comic cons. He's been on cartoons both voicing himself and other characters including a Transformer (Wreck-Gar) and a Pony named Cheese Sandwich. (I admit I only learned that last part because the girl seated in front of me brought said pony to take a picture with Al.)
You're welcome, Zechs.