If this isn’t Weird Al’s first ever UK tour, I can’t tell you when the last one was. I know he played two dates about two years back and that tonight was the first Scottish date in the band’s history. It often bemused me that an act as popular as Al back in the “Eat It” days never seemed to tour. As one of my gig companions stated as we waited for Al to come on stage, “I’ve waited seventeen years for this”.
Personally, I’d waited nearer 8 and a half after catching him in Sydney when I was backpacking. Looking back at that review, it wasn’t far off the kind of show we go tonight just tweaked for the albums released in the interim and the style of venue. In other words (spoiler) it was bloody amazing.
I mention this kind of thing in some reviews – bands need to engage with the audience. Anyone with a bit of musical talent can rattle off some songs, but I could listen to that at home on the stereo. It takes that little extra something to stir a crowd up and wrap them in your performance. While Al didn’t really spend much time talking to the crowd, he and the band put on a show. Costumes; acted-out sections; synchronised videos; costumes; streamers; bubbles; costumes; random old dude holding mouth organ…
I actually think the member of the band who directly engaged with the audience the most was keyboardist Rubén Valtierra, who – dressed as the Emperor – did the old “which side of the crowd can cheer the loudest” schtick. Without saying a word. Deadpan.
See, that’s one mistake it’s easy to make when seeing Weird Al – focussing on the main man himself. This would be grossly unfair as it’s a combined effort from every member to bring the show to you and each person up there is superb. String duties were handled by Jim West and Steve Jay, and skin-pounding by stalwart Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz. Al, obviously, did the main vocals and accordion (and mouth organ) though backing vocals were shared amongst the rest of the band.
Strangely, both times I’ve seen Al there have been sound problems. Early in the show, what sounded like a dodgy connection was causing serious crackle, but the band played on and the issue was resolved just around the point where they seemed to be getting concerned. That was the only blip in an otherwise utterly superb show.
With no support – I doubt they’d have had time for one with the early curfew – Al marched into the building (I’ll leave that vague as I don’t want to spoil things for anyone still to see the show) just before 8pm and they ran through to nigh on 10pm. The whole thing was virtually non-stop, in as much as there was no real pause before the encore. Between songs there was a gap for costume changes, but these were smoothed over perfectly with random videos being displayed. These ranged from Al’s parody interviews to snippets of people mentioning him in a bevy of TV programmes. One early one was, quite literally, just random 2-3 second blasts of unconnected nonsense. Surprising that Bruce Campbell appearing as Ash on the screen for just a couple of seconds can raise a cheer as loud as it did, but he is awesome after all.
I don’t want to dig into the set list itself too much. Again, if you’re going to see any of the remaining dates it’s more fun to be surprised with the medleys, twists and alternate versions/styles of some of the songs. That was the icing on the cake for me.
Suffice to say that the really obvious ones were pretty much all in place. The medleys work for Al because often the punchline of the song’s “joke” has been reached by the chorus so it makes sense to cut and run to the next one. The new album, Mandatory Fun, gets a decent outing and for a couple of the tracks you have the benefit of a big-screen lyric video if you’re not familiar with them.
Barring that one sound glitch (which was rapidly sorted), this was a perfect performance. As with the last time I saw him, the only issue was that it wasn’t longer. Like, by about five hours.
There is a lot going on in the music business these days and the general consensus is that acts are making nothing from selling albums any more. All the money is in being on the road, playing live and selling merch. If that is the reason behind Al finally playing a slew of dates across the UK then I, for one, welcome this change.
Tonight’s show was an example to many, many bands on how to entertain a crowd. There are some superb acts out there, but only a handful that can truly blow you away with a live show. No hyperbole here – Weird Al is up there with Rammstein. Sure, it’s a different scale, genre and so on but the effect is the same. Utter, complete, rictus grin-inducing eye-candy.
[Just gutted we couldn’t arrange an interview :( ]