Not in 30 years has there been a musical parodist as consistently successful as “Weird Al” Yankovic. And Yankovic has been able to mount a live presentation that–thanks to imaginative visual aids and a wonderfully versatile four-man band–improves on his records.
How successful is he? Enough so that his singles and albums have been charting for nearly a decade (following a couple of years of underground fame); his latest Rock ‘n’ Roll Records/Scotti Bros. album, “Off the Deep End,” reached the top 20; and Bruce Springsteen recently kidded about dreaming that his own albums would outsell Yankovic’s.
Friday night’s Wiltern show consisted of a melange of live songs and videos, the latter either setting up the musical material or diverting the audience’s attention during costume changes. Drawn in some cases from Yankovic’s “Al TV” series of MTV specials, the videos included commercial parodies and a series of interviews with rock stars (Paula Abdul, Ozzy Osbourne and George Harrison among them), patched together to make the celebs look even sillier than usual.
Yankovic’s record parodies duplicate the sound of the source material as closely as possible, with the singer either mocking the act (as in “Smells Like Nirvana,” in which he capitalizes on the fact that not even the band’s fans can understand the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) or using the record as a jumping-off point, as in the songs in his “Fabulous Food Medley”–“Chicken Pot Pie” subs for Warrant’s “Cherry Pie,” and “My Bologna” for the Knack’s “My Sharona.”
More imaginative still is his medley of relatively current rock ‘n’ roll songs in polka tempo, and Yankovic’s original songs are awfully good, too–“You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” the lament of a man who’s just beginning to understand that he’s being rejected is as well crafted as any of the parodies.
Sophomoric and jejune it all is, to be sure, but name one other contemporary music act that entertains everybody from the preteens to their parents.
Unbilled opener Bill Franzer is a cult figure among followers of radio’s Dr. Demento, best known for his 1977 ode to “Dead Puppies,” originally issued as by the Ogden Edsl Wahalia Blues Ensemble Mondo Bizarrio Band. Frenzer’s set was shorter than the name but did include “(Get Your Kicks From) the Beast 666.”