Who knew metro Washington was also the nation’s nerd capital?
A sold-out crowd — many ectomorphs in geeky garb, monk/Jedi robes, foil caps, riotous colors, vintage tour shirts, and even one randy fellow in a banana suit — boarded the “Weird Al” Yankovic mothership Friday night for some mandatory fun.
And man, did they “eat it” up.
Born Alfred Matthew Yankovic, “Weird Al,” 55, is the king of pop parody. Since recording My Bologna — his ode to The Knack’s My Sharona — in a college bathroom on his faithful accordion in the late ‘70s, he has been the gateway drug to mainstream music for society’s oddballs and has outlasted careers of (or outlived) many of the icons he teases.
Fresh from a revitalized career — thanks to his latest release, Mandatory Fun, which entered the Billboard chart at No. 1 and scored a Grammy for a comedy album — Yankovic shivered the timbers of Wolf Trap’s Filene Center by first popping in as a video selfie, doing Tacky, his clever take on Pharrell’s Happy. It started backstage as a continuous remote shot. Once the audience realized it was live and he was roaming the grounds of Wolf Trap with his spidery dance moves, they went crazy, phones raised in salute as he threaded his way from the house to the stage.
Despite that signature goofiness and zany-pajamas clown suit, Yankovic is no fool. He brilliantly has ridden the social media wave, first releasing the eminently shareable Word Crimes — a parody of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines that scolds the idiocy of online jibber-jabber — and Tacky, in which A-Listers like Jack Black and Margaret Cho lend their lip-synching talents for a painstakingly choreographed (mostly by the camera crew) video.
Though some might charge him with musical crimes (does Coolio ring a bell?), Al is a peerless entertainer with the precision and musicality of a virtuoso. We may wish we could strip away the “Weird Al” facade, like Stephen Colbert’s conservative cut-up, but Yankovic proves himself the hardest-working man in show business, even as he imitates James Brown in a glittering cape or Lady Gaga in a squid suit on Perform This Way.
The frenetic costume changes, from that squid into daffy Devo suits for Dare to Be Stupid – which could work just as well updated as Daft Punk – were punctuated by streaming video clips of “Weird Al” references in movies and on TV through the years – from Family Guy and The Simpsons to Jeopardy! and Airplane! His ALTV-spliced interview with Eminem – hilarious. His edited take of last year’s Oscar-nominated Whiplash, in which he sits in on accordion in a faceoff with J.K. Simmons – mesmerizing.
This show is replete with theatrics: props, bubble machine, confetti cannon, amazing lighting, and sound effects. The guys at the sound board must have gotten whiplash themselves during Fat, the parody of Michael Jackson’s Bad, trying to match his impregnable timing in that fat suit.
Two hours of seamless, flawless, grin-brimming entertainment.
But a few moments resonated in a poignant way. One: He got about the business of one-upping himself, assembling the band onstage in a semicircle with pedestal candles for a version of Eat It done a la Eric Clapton Unplugged while in a Josh Groban-style puffy shirt. Two: His ghosts of Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain felt somehow tragic in light of those stars we’ve lost.
And three: During Gump, in which he blends the Tom Hanks vehicle Forrest Gump with … gosh, who even remembers the song Lump by alt-rockers The Presidents of the United States? — it may have dawned on all of us that “Weird Al” Yankovic is our own real-life Forrest Gump, the pseudo-simpleton whose fans skew smart and who is our pop-culture archivist, helping us to chart history, both American and personal.
A confession then. In 1999, on a chilly night, I slept out at the Warner Theater in downtown Washington on the pavement with three other hardy souls to be first in line for “Weird Al” tickets – purportedly to satisfy the cravings of my whip-smart sixth-grader and her gifted-and-talented crew, including her little sister. Later at the concert, on Nov. 14, 1999, when Yankovic tossed his paper cup to them in the front row after he used it to gurgle during Smells Like Nirvana, those girls vowed to pass around the cup in its ziplock bag from house to house like a trophy in plexiglass. On it was the DNA of their patron saint to weirdness.
As weirdness has become cool again, “Weird Al” Yankovic is part of this country’s DNA. He stays relevant by yanking the chains of us Yanks. He is our Monty Python and our endless infomercial. His genius is in pairing hit tunes with hit-home lyrics, finding the perfect hook to skewer an institution or craze du jour. His endless food references remind us of our propensity for obesity, or the twin obsessions of online shopping and erstwhile boy bands in Ebay (parody of Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way). And he continues to embrace modern technology, cellphones in particular, finding a way to be as inclusive as any artist who fights for the underdog or flies a freak flag.
All in good fun, mostly G-rated, without a true mean bone in his elastic body.
I think I speak for everyone: May the saga never end.
Running Time: 2 hours, with no intermission.
“Weird Al” Yankovic performed on June 12, 2015, at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap – 1645 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For tickets to future events, call the box office at 1-877-wolftrap, or purchase them online.