When comedic musician and king parodist of our time ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic announced that he would be undertaking a tour wherein he dropped the costumes and video screens to concentrate on a stripped-down musical experience, it seemed like a radical idea. When Yankovic explained that the tour would focus primarily on older material - and original, non-parody material, at that - fans were ecstatic.
The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour is a bit of an absurd name for a tour that, by all rights, is something for which longtime, deeply-nerdy fans have been hoping but never expected. Why would Yankovic play the likes of Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung for a theatre full of kids wanting to dance along to White & Nerdy?
But here it was, in front of the crowd at Kansas City’s Folly Theater. Due to the nature of the tour, the crowd necessarily skewed older than most ‘Weird Al’ concerts, with distinctly fewer younger kids than previous tours. That’s likely for the best, especially considering how confused they might’ve been after a half-hour of incredibly dry stand-up from longtime Yankovic pal, Emo Phillips.
After Phillips’ set, the stage crew set everything up, the lights dimmed again, and Yankovic and his band - Jim West, Steve Jay, Jon ‘Bermuda’ Schwarz, and Rubén Valtierra - took the stage, and kicked off the set with a bluesy take on the normally Devo-esque Dare to Be Stupid. It set the tone for what was to come for the next several hours, by taking something utterly familiar and turning it on its head. The show did the same for the Unplugged/Storytellers format, as Yankovic would provide humorous, not-quite-true introductions to most of the numbers - explaining, for example, that the subject of the stalker anthem, Melanie, wasn’t actually named Melanie.
While it seemed like the setlist would skew more recent at the offset - the White Stripes-like CNR, about Charles Nelson Reilly and the Doors pastiche Craigslist - Yankovic and the band began dipping deep and strange after the first few numbers. Buy Me A Condo, the yuppie reggae from In 3-D maybe hasn’t aged as well as the rather timeless doo-wop of One More Minute, and that might explain why the song seemed kind of rushed.
However, it’s still such a pleasant surprise to hear something that obscure that one can’t help but be somewhat charmed by the fact that Yankovic and the band pulled it out at all. The same goes for the third wave ska of Your Horoscope for Today, from Running With Scissors, which is so densely-packed with words that an audience member unfamiliar with it might be totally lost, but for those who have owned several Reel Big Fish or Less Than Jake CDs, it was a gloriously geeky moment.
Even though it seems like the biggest responses did come to older material, the songs which have always seemed like lesser works, such as Craigslist and the Regatta de Blanc of Even Worse’s Velvet Elvis, ended up coming across as incredibly strong in the live environment. The band really dug into the genre conventions of each of the songs, and Yankovic fairly wailed a la Jim Morrison on Craigslist, as psychedelic lights swirled about the theatre.
A few songs in, it started to become evident that Yankovic’s voice was a little rough. He even acknowledged it before launching into the angry rock of I’ll Sue Ya, saying that it was likely to destroy it completely. Happily, it did not, and Yankovic soldiered on, performing two of his longest songs - Jackson Park Express, which clocks in at nine minutes, as well as the epic Albuquerque, which saw the most enthusiastic and intense sing-along of the night, at least until the encore of The Saga Begins.
The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour is a once in a lifetime kind of concert. Yankovic gets rid of the fat suits, Segways, and beards and performs bizarre, deep cuts about torturing rats with a hacksaw and pulling the wings off of flies. The response for those in the know was absolutely rapturous, with one couple looking deep into each other’s eyes and singing to each other on nearly every song. A pair of gentlemen who were evidently not aware of the show’s content were surprised, to say the least, but they were in the distinct minority. For everyone else in attendance, the constant series of pleasant surprises which comprised Yankovic’s setlist was nothing short of transcendent.
‘WEIRD AL’ YANKOVIC / THE FOLLY THEATER / KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI / SUNDAY, APRIL 29th, 2018