The prim woman folding her arms and scoffing in the box seat apparently didn’t get the memo that the theme of the performance was Mandatory Fun. Outraged by a barf joke – tame by comparison to other comedy acts – the regal patron was more likely in attendance to see the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra than to see headliner “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Comedy of Yankovic’s stature isn’t easy or pedestrian. Take “Word Crimes,” his Robin Thicke-biting ode to copy editors. Like a modern-day Schoolhouse Rock!, the artist turns grammar rules into memorable lyrics. The absurdity of his explaining dangling participles while wearing a striped Beetlejuice suit is not lost on this writer. But whatever it takes to get the masses to understand that “I could care less” means “You do care—at least a little” gets Occur’s approval.
Pairing Yankovic with the revered orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins was a fun experiment. On songs begging for live strings, such as the rap goof “Amish Paradise,” the cross-pollination of classical music and slapstick hokum worked beautifully. As did their collaboration on Star Wars ditties “The Saga Begins” (aping Don McLean’s “American Pie”) and “Yoda” (the Jedi version of the Kinks’ “Lola”). Star Wars score composer John Williams is a frequent performer at the bowl, so the tribute was fitting and funny. A cappella openers Straight No Chaser did entertaining renditions of the Williams’ sci-fi oeuvre earlier in the evening. Stormtroopers gyrated while Yankovic and his backing band flounced in humble brown cloaks.
The cloaks were the most subdued costumes of the show. In the span of an hour and a half, Yankovic transformed from an octopus (for the Lady Gaga gaffe “Perform This Way”) to a member of Devo (“Dare To Be Stupid”) and a wannabe Eminem (for the crackup “White and Nerdy”). The comedian-accordionist’s jokes were as dorky and clever as ever, save for the Michael Jackson parody “Fat.” Body shaming isn’t chic, and though Yankovic broke out some impressive dance moves in his fat suit, one had to think twice before laughing for risk of being politically incorrect.
What was admirable was his way of reinventing some of his reinventions. He turned some of his greatest hits of the 1980s – “Like a Surgeon,” “I Lost on Jeopardy” – into an MTV Unplugged session. Guitarist Jim West even threw in a lick of Eric Clapton’s famously slowed-down version of Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” for good measure.
That’s the thing outsiders like our coiffed friend in the beginning of this story don’t get about Al Yankovic: He is a real musician, and he’s gifted to boot. Where else but a Weird Al concert can one see such a command of the accordion? And twice in the set, he sang notes longer than most opera singers can. What’s the message? It’s that a good belly laugh thanks to a cunning linguist can be just the right medicine for a bad day—or a bad year.