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Polka Party

Christopher Myers

By Jess Harvell | Posted 5/16/2007

"Weird Al" Yankovic, Rams Head Live, May 8

Sometime it's good to reaffirm that you're still as big of a dork as you were in high school, and a "Weird Al" Yankovic concert is like a pan-dork church where you're not only free to testify--you're encouraged. Like Otakon week, there was a "strength in numbers" feeling of nerd solidarity before you even got into Rams Head Live, as the sold-out queue snaked around the fountain, past the McDonald's, and beyond the horizon of the parking garage. Dudes in the expected Transformers and Star Wars T-shirts stared down the ice grills of Power Plant Live! hoochies on their way to Mex or Mondo Bondo as if to say, "Tonight, you can't hurt me."

But geek unity aside, you can't really pigeonhole a Weird Al audience. If you had shown up tonight expecting a field trip's worth of prepubescent boys--after all, Yankovic had a hit album last year, and they're supposedly his prime audience--you'd have been greeted by a crowd that was overwhelmingly 25 and over, and that was full of women, couples, families, well-dressed retirees, and uptown hipsters. Weird Al cuts across demographics with an ease that's got to make him the envy of every major label marketing guy out there.

He's also a master showman, and his faithful slurped up every minute of it like leftover Spam juice; cross a Grateful Dead concert with the quick-change chicanery of a family-friendly Vegas show and the atmosphere of a Trek convention and you're close. Al's band has been together for 26 years now, and they play with a pro's finesse but also the goggle-eyed exuberance--especially bulging-orbed guitarist Jim West--of Los Angeles studio sidemen who thank God when they get up every day that they get paid to re-create T-Pain songs. If you're going to call yourself Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz, your two options in life are being someone's "crazy uncle" or playing with Weird Al.

Nearly every song featured a costume change, whether it was the shiny Puffy and Ma$e suits from "All About the Pentiums," a closet full of Mennonite wear for "Amish Paradise," Jedi robes for "The Saga Begins," or the full-on fat guy suit for, well, you know. To keep us entertained while swapping clothes, the monitors played the Edited History of Weird Al in Popular Culture: his MTV Video Music Awards appearances, clips from TV shows featuring Yankovic, mock celebrity interviews from the late, lamented Al TV (including an uncharacteristically vicious new one with Kevin Federline), snatches of UHF, and more. Weirdly, despite the fact that the further back he reached into his catalog, the louder people cheered, Al stuck mostly to newer material. The band in full Rage Against the Machine regalia--Al in Zach De La Rocha dreads that looked like Snuffleupagus trunks--was funny, but the song itself was a poor substitute for, like, "Dare to Be Stupid." Still, what was the last show you went to that had exploding confetti and bubble machines? It was like getting to go to a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese as a grownup.

But by the 10th or 100th video montage, the contact nerd high became overwhelming. (People were actually quoting along with the old Simpsons and King of the Hill clips that featured Yankovic references.) At the beginning of the third hour, knees were weak and brains were tired. Before the show, the joke was that, after 12 albums and with no opening acts, "Weird Al" Yankovic could now put on a Springsteen-length show, which turned out to be right. As a friend commented later when discussing the unexpected Al-fatigue that embarrassed our inner child: "Yeah, it's almost like a folk festival--except the hippies wear different clothes."

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