Playing with parodies
Months after “Weird Al” Yankovic announced he would be performing with a full orchestra in every city on his Strings Attached—the 2019 Tour, pop music’s foremost accordionist and song satirist made a startling disclosure at the 61st Grammy Awards.
“I’ve kind of been playing the long game,” he told the audience after taking the stage to accept top Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package for his accordion-shaped 2017 retrospective Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of “Weird Al” Yankovic. “I never really wanted to be a recording artist. I did it for 40 years just so one day I could win an award for art director.”
This is a joke, of course, but Yankovic has definitely played the long game. He was a child prodigy of sorts chosen by destiny to be offered accordion lessons. Heavily influenced by singing comedian Tom Lehrer and Mad magazine, his parodies of hits by the Knack (“My Bologna”) and Queen (“Another One Rides the Bus”) were championed by novelty-music impresario Dr. Demento.
He might have remained an underground phenomenon had he not become a video star on MTV in the early ’80s. A video for a song that paid homage to I Love Lucy via a reimagining of Toni Basil’s “Mickey” led to his becoming a celebrity. He was barely recognizable in the video, shorn of his trademark moustache and hiding his halo of brown curls beneath a wig so he could resemble Desi Arnaz.
The facial hair was back by the time he returned to food as a subject for “Eat It,” his first Michael Jackson parody. The song made him a celebrity, and his specs-and-’stache look became an iconic ’80s image. (Witness Dustin’s T-shirt in Netflix’s Reagan-era series Stranger Things.) That association might have held him back if it wasn’t for “Smells Like Nirvana,” a spoof of the song and video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that put him back on top after several years of career recession.
His current tour was inspired by 2016 concerts he played the Hollywood Bowl. Performing Star Wars music with an orchestra made him feel as if he were inside the movie, as he told Billboard magazine in June. When he found out it was possible to re-create the experience on tour, he jumped at the chance.
Arrangements have been made for Yankovic to play with a pick-up symphony in every city. By the time the tour comes to The Smith Center, it will have visited more than 40 cities, where fans heard live strings seasoning Coolio-inspired “Amish Paradise” and orchestral maneuvers added to Kinks homage “Lola.” Yankovic takes full advantage of symphonic sound by performing John Williams-composed soundtrack music from ’70s blockbusters Superman and Star Wars.
The only element that could make it cooler would be if stormtroopers were invited to join him onstage during a segment dedicated to Star Wars (hint, hint). Yankovic may not record as prolifically in the streaming era, but The Force is with him. And his Grammy disclosure was typical Weird Al humor: “I’m glad my hard work finally paid off.”
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7, starting at $39.50 plus tax and fee. 702.749.2000