I can’t be the only fan who saw the announcement of the 2022 “Weird Al” Yankovic tour and thought ‘YESSSSS this time he’s got to play “Slime Creatures From Outer Space”. It seemed the only reason to reboot his most successful (in musical terms, at least) tour ever, 2018’s The Ridiculously Ill-Advised, Self-Indulgent Vanity Tour: dig deeper, play more rarities…right?
I loved the Milwaukee show in May of course (here’s that review: https://milwaukeerecord.com/music/weird-al-fortunately-returns-to-milwaukee-with-unfortunate-return-of-non-parody-tour/) but I had to admit that although Weird Al himself seemed vivacious as ever, his bandmates may have lost a step or two. And let’s not forget about the world at large. In 2018, Al could, say, stop the band dead in the middle of “Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White” and apologize to the crowd for using the term “midget” in a lyric, providing context in an earnest yet absurd show of solidarity, compassion and simple acknowledgment of changing times.
And boy are they changing. Somehow I agree with Al’s instinct that people might not find this as cute in 2022. We humans are a battered and grim lot now, and understandably sensitive. So a number of beloved tunes from the 2018 tour have been left out of The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Ill-Advised, Self-Indulgent Vanity Tour rotation. “Vanna White” for one. “Happy Birthday”, a no-brainer. “Jackson Park Express”, okay I get it. “One Of Those Days” has the line “The nazis tied me up and covered me with ants”; I assume that’s the culprit? “Mr. Frump In The Iron Lung”, it’s no huge loss. Ditto for “Party At The Leper Colony” and “Traffic Jam”. Good riddance to “If That Isn’t Love”. “She Never Told Me She Was A Mime”…seems harmless though. Abandoning “Truck Drivin’ Song” might be a misjudgment. And what about “Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me”? “That Boy Could Dance”? Could it be a simple…dearth of ambition on the part of the band? “I Was Only Kidding”, how hard can that one be to play? Did they ditch “Good Enough For Now” just because they didn’t feel like lugging the pedal steel around??
The preceding paragraph is just one small example of how the internet can ruin fandom if you’re not careful. For one thing, the belligerent sense of entitlement would’ve been unthinkable two decades ago. Furthermore, a database tallying up the relative rarity of every known song should not have any bearing on the enjoyment of live music! Still, the whole point of this type of tour is hearing things you haven’t heard before. So there was that twinge of dismay when, at Uihlein Hall in May, Yankovic & co. played a show comprised almost entirely of stuff they had played in Milwaukee in 2018. Given the pruned-down repertoire, I began to feel like I’d made a mistake in buying tickets to two more shows on this tour.
Thanks to the marvelous ticketing service known as AXS, however, I had options. In case you’re not aware, if you buy tickets through AXS and discover that you can’t make it or don’t want to go, you can simply put your tickets up for sale in their own system instead of going through some third-party broker, and thus far in my experience, they get sold. Yes they do take a cut but it’s certainly smaller than Stubhub’s. Compare this with, for instance, Etix, who won’t even let you change your delivery method in order to have the option to sell your tickets (yes it was dumb of me to choose will call in this day and age I’m just a stub-saver and have a hard time letting go I learned my lesson). Thus, some fan easily purchased my Friday tickets for slightly less than what I paid for them and everyone was happy. HOW HARD IS THIS?? I might’ve sold both nights back except Saturday was a rendezvous with dear friends and it was gonna be great no matter what.
In keeping with Al’s vegetarian sensibilities, we had dinner at The Chicago Diner in Logan Square, “Meat Free since ‘83” (this location since 2012). I haven’t had vegetarian sandwiches anywhere near this good in Milwaukee I have to say. The texture of the pretend meats especially, inspiring. I sampled the reuben, the Cuban and the gyro, all amazing. Next time I’m trying a vegan milkshake.
Emo Philips is a demented fellow. Plenty of visible squirming in the audience, it was hilarious. This was the fifth time I’ve seen him open for Weird Al and some of his darkest material Saturday night I had not heard before. This is part of what makes me think Al’s quiet trimming of certain songs from his repertoire over time is not, in fact, an attempt to censor himself for society—I think he just would genuinely prefer not to make people feel bad, it has seemed to be his overall m.o. his whole career. Despite an overwhelming number of songs dealing with gross and violent subject matter, good-natured is what rules the day, and it’s what people need. Particularly following an Emo Philips set.
I had stopped looking at setlists once the repertoire had been established; the only thing I really knew was that on two-night stands, one night would get “Albuquerque” as the set-closer and the other would get “The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota”, and I knew that tonight at the Symphony Center the latter was the less likely. It’s Saturday night and people want to rock, not cry.
Wouldn’t you know it, the band came out and opened with the same three goddamn songs they opened with in Milwaukee. I’ll tell you something, though: it kind of makes a difference when the guitar player is actually onstage rather than playing from backstage because he has covid. I don’t think this band has lost anything actually. Who could blame them for being slightly discombobulated when they couldn’t see each other? It’s more the marvel that they were as great as they were in Milwaukee, but in Chicago they were every bit the band I’d remembered from four years ago, a powerhouse in any sense you like, “Drum Solo (Reprise)” notwithstanding.
After those first three tunes was when some of the deeper cuts started popping up. “Skipper Dan”, “Midnight Star”, “Frank’s 2000” TV”, “Good Old Days”, “Airline Amy”, “I Remember Larry”, it’s not as though I could explain the emotional connection I have to these songs at this point, but some of these songs, liberated from their status as “filler” on “comedy albums”, you’d have to be paying close attention to notice that they’re supposed to be “funny”. Still, I need to take a moment to acknowledge that the line “Even Lars Ulrich knows it’s wrong” in “Don’t Download This Song” flitted right by me all these years until Saturday night; I couldn’t help cracking up. The way this band was playing I would’ve started kicking myself for selling my Friday tickets except we were dealing with a home plumbing disaster Friday and couldn’t have gone anyway.
The thing is, Al’s songs aren’t entirely frivolous; occasionally they can be reminders of something we need to be reminded of, and usually the thing is not to take our privileged little aggravations and conundrums so seriously when…y’know, look around. But also that there is still joy despite all of it, that’s been the Yankovic credo the whole time whether or not anyone’s been listening. From “Happy Birthday” and “That Boy Could Dance” right up through “My Own Eyes”, the message is clear: the world is absurd and uncontrollable so let’s at least make fun of it.
As I suspected, it turned out to be an “Albuquerque” night; the Friday night crowd got that “Ball Of Twine” and they also got “Mr. Popeil”, a song I fear I’ll never get to see live now. And that’s fine. I’m filing it away with songs like “The Check’s In The Mail” and “This Is The Life” and “Cable TV” and “You Make Me” that inexplicably never showed up on these Vanity tours. They exist, and I’ve gotten all kinds of enjoyment out of them over the years, and that’s going to have to be enough. For the encore on Saturday, Al graced us with one of only five new covers he and the band have worked up so far this year: “You Can Call Me Al”, well it’s about time isn’t it. And of course the highlight of every show, the wild chanting extravaganza in the middle of the partial “Yoda” at the end of the parody medley, which no other band on Earth could pull off. It’s good to be reminded of the unique power of Weird Al and his band, almost regardless of what songs they play.