Between the song parodies, corny-yet-lovable sense of humor and a quasi-nerdy affection for the accordion, it would be easy to dismiss Weird Al Yankovic as a mere novelty act. An appearance early in the California native’s career that landed him on Tomorrow with Tom Snyder in 1977 had the late night talk show icon quip, “Great performance Al, don’t quit your day job.”
Yet four decades-plus later, Yankovic has established himself as a pop culture icon thanks to a tireless work ethic that has earned him four Grammys, 15 nominations and a canon of songs/videos that have found him brilliantly poking fun at hit songs by a broad swath of artists including Nirvana, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke.
All this on top of directing music videos for other artists (Hanson, The Black Crowes, Ben Folds), writing children’s books (When I Grow Up; My New Teacher and Me!) and doing voiceover work on a number of animated shows including Milo Murphy’s Law, Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, BoJack Horseman and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy.
Yankovic’s prolific creative drive and love of performing has him hitting the road helming what’s been dubbed, “The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.” It’s a far simpler affair than the props-loaded, parody-song driven affairs fans are accustomed to seeing him trot out, such as the last concert jaunt, “The Mandatory World Tour.”
“This is a much different tour. I did the Mandatory World Tour and that was the full-on production tour with the costumes and props and the video screens—it was the whole multi-media extravaganza,” he recalled. “On this tour, it’s something that we’ve never really ever done before. It’s very scaled-down and not only that, but the set-list is very different. We’re not playing the hits—we’re playing all the deep cuts and all the original songs and that’s one of the things that excites me about this particular tour. In all my other shows, because it’s such a highly produced show, one song by de facto has to go into the next song because the costumes are waiting backstage. It’s like a Broadway musical and we have to do it the exact same way every night. Whereas, now that there’s no extraneous production, we can literally do a different show every night and that’s exactly what we intend to do. We’ve learned over four hours of material and every single show will be different.”
Joining Yancovic on the road will be longtime bandmates John “Bermuda” Schwartz on drums, guitarist Jim West and bassist Steve Jay, all who were recruited between 1980 and 1982. Rounding out the group is keyboardist Rubén Valtierra, a band member since 1992 who’s still considered the new guy in the band. The preparation for this unique presentation of the Yankovic catalog comes on the heels of the release of last year’s Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of “Weird Al” Yankovic, a career-spanning box set of all 14 of his albums that includes a rarities album and a 120-page book of archival photos. Having had approval of the mastering and been a member of the art direction team, he got to delve pretty deep into his old material, something Yankovic normally doesn’t do once he’s done recording a song.
“It was nice to be able to revisit those old songs. I listen to the music a lot while I’m recording it and up until the point that it comes out, then I put it away and don’t listen to it anymore. So this was an opportunity to go back and listen to a lot of these songs for the first time in a long time,” he explained. “As an artist, sometimes you just hear the mistakes—’Maybe I would have done this one better or that one was a little flat.’ But with the passage of a lot of time, you forget about a lot of the mistakes you may have made and think it sounds kind of cool.”
Having started out taking music lessons as a kid after a traveling salesman came by the family home offering a choice of either the guitar or accordion (“My parents thought, ‘It would be nice for young Alfie to have some musical training. We want him to be popular in high school, so of course, accordion.’), Yankovic grew up idolizing his Mount Rushmore of Parody influences—Allan Sherman, Spike Jones, Tom Lehrer and Stan Freberg—along with other favorites including Frank Zappa, Monty Python and Shel Silverstein. But it was eclectic radio host Dr. Demento who Yankovic religiously listened to and someone who gave him his first break and continues to be a good friend.
“Dr. Demento gave me my start. When I first started recording music, I certainly wasn’t thinking in terms of a 40-year recording career,” he said with a laugh. “I was 15 and 16 years old in high school and was recording with my accordion in my bedroom into a 39-cent cassette as a goof. This was a few decades before YouTube and there was no other way to get my material out there. I thought Dr. Demento might play it and to my amazement, he did. There is no other person in the world at the time who would have given airtime to someone like me. If he had never existed, my life, I’m sure, would have taken a much, much different trajectory.”
Weird Al Yankovic will be playing March 17 at The Paramount, 370 New York Ave., Huntington. For information, visit www.theparamountny.com or call 631-673-7300. Yankovic will also be playing on March 22 and 23 at the Apollo Theater, 253 W. 125th St., NYC. For more information, visit www.apollotheater.com or call 212-531-5305.