'Weird Al' Yankovic skips song parodies and digs deep at two superfan-thrilling Pantages shows

"Weird Al" Yankovic at Pantages on Tuesday night.

"Weird Al" Yankovic at Pantages on Tuesday night. Deb Freytag

Al Yankovic has made it a point to temper our expectations for his "Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour,” which kicked off in February and hit Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis two nights this week.

This isn’t going to be what you’ve come to expect from “Weird Al” tours of yore. No fat suit, no Jedi robes or Darth Vader cameo, no five-minute video interstitials between songs so the entire band can change costumes.

There will be, in fact, almost no parodies.

You, a sad, boring layperson: “WHAT?! Then what is even left for him to play?!”

Me, an angry “Weird Al” intellectual: “UM, MOST OF HIS SONGS.”

Though Yankovic is best known for parodying the top pop hits of the last three and a half decades, his studio albums are primarily populated with original songs. Often they’re style parodies (a Bob Dylan-style song that’s all palindromes, an Elvis Costello-style song about being sick of your girlfriend) that require dedicated and experimental musicianship, perfected and reinvented over the years with Al’s talented long-time band members: Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz on drums, Rubén Valtierra on keyboards, Steve Jay on bass, and Jim “Kimo” West on guitar.

After Yankovic and band played the first song on his first night in Minneapolis—“Velvet Elvis,” in the style of the Police, from the 1988 album Even Worse—he reiterated his disclaimer: “This isn’t going to be a typical show.”

Then he added, “We’re actually going to play all Smash Mouth songs,” and threatened us with the first 30 seconds of “All Star.” Thankfully, Yankovic was totally jk’ing.

Al paid due reverence to our great state by regaling us with his 1989 epic “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.” Sure, sometimes it snows in April, but you know you’ve hit #peakMN when you’re listening to “Weird Al” sing about our oversized string sphere while it’s straight up blizzarding outside on April 3.

At one point during the second night’s show, Yankovic asked us to guess the next song. “I’ll give you a clue: It’s a song about a girl named Melanie.” MELANIE! The audience screamed back, and he launched into “Melanie” (Even Worse), an MRA/Friendzone-sufferer’s anthem that was about 20 years ahead of its time. The second night also featured favorites like the lovesick ballad turned bizarre confessional “One More Minute” (from 1985’s Dare to Be Stupid), the AC/DC-style parody “Young, Dumb & Ugly” (from 1993’s Alapalooza), and the borderline horrifying “Jackson Park Express” (from Yankovic’s 14th and contractually obligated 2014 album Mandatory Fun), all about some wildly overinterpreted facial expressions shared between strangers on a bus.

The deep cuts were abundant, even for a fan like myself. Granted, I’ve never claimed to be the biggest “Weird Al” fan on earth—that accolade is reserved for the dude with a full-body Al Yankovic back tattoo (of which there are probably a few dozen in the world). But even so, I’d previously heard songs like “Buy Me a Condo,” “Generic Blues,” and “Those Were the Good ol’ Days” maybe a couple of times before tonight. It was a relief to see Yankovic take a break from the theatrics of his previous tours and just sing—a lot, and loudly. I imagine one major benefit of costume changes was vocal cord breaks, but on this tour he’s belting his way straight through 90-plus-minute sets.

That’s how ridiculously self-indulgent this tour is: Yankovic is actually just playing a ton of his favorites, hits be damned. If you’re just casually browsing this review, this show probably wasn’t for you. If you were the sort of kid who got caught by her mom singing “Trigger Happy” loudly into a hairbrush in her bedroom or who practiced doing the fast bridge in the middle of “The Horoscope Song” over and over again to nail it in one breath, this was absolutely your tour. Not that either of those are true stories or anything.

During the first show I sang happily along with the UHF theme song and “I Remember Larry,” and it was right about in the middle of 1984’s “Midnight Star” (a song about newspaper tabloids) and “The Night Santa Went Crazy” (no parenthetical explanation necessary) that I realized something: “Weird Al” Yankovic is dark. When most of us think an idea has been drawn to its ultimate conclusion, Yankovic always insists there’s further to go, dragging it deeper and deeper down a pretty screwy rabbit hole. I don’t think this is because he’s nihilistic; he just has a knack for recognizing where our comfort zones are, then daring us to peer beyond them into the darkness.

By the time Yankovic wrapped up both sets, we’d heard about stabbings, murders, carnage, natural disasters, apocalypse, kidnapping, disemboweling, drugs, horses, mashed potatoes... these aren’t nice things to sing about. But the juxtaposition of, say, a devastating earthquake that crushed 30,000 people to death and getting really mad that the local news interrupted your episode of The Simpsons with the breaking story somehow feels... comforting. Everything is more or less equally meaningless/meaningful in the discography of the Kierkegaard of parody music.

I had heard whispers of a rumor that Al might be playing his legendary 12-minute song “Albuquerque” off the 1999 Running with Scissors album, but thought surely I wouldn’t get so lucky as to hear it at one of these two shows. I did. It was beautiful, and much longer and stranger than the album version. Both nights, Yankovic also offered snippets of some of his best parodies in a crooning lounge-style medley of tunes including “Lost on Jeopardy,” “Amish Paradise,” “White & Nerdy,” and “Like a Surgeon.”

One night one, Yankovic eventually did follow through on his earlier threat by playing the entirety of Smash Mouth’s “All Star” in the encore, but he then salved the burn with one of his best sing-alongs, the Star Wars-themed “The Saga Begins.” In the second show’s encore, the band covered the Who’s “Squeeze Box” because Yankovic felt it was a real shame that a song about an accordion doesn’t feature any accordion, and treated us to his only other Star Wars song, “Yoda.”

Yankovic thanked us, said, “You guys are our people,” and left. For all his warnings and tempering of expectations, it’s clear that this tour really means something to him, and he understands that it truly means something to us, too. My friend Rebecca told me after I gushed about the show on Twitter: “He is part of the special sauce that makes the world work for you.” That couldn’t be more true, for myself and for the thousands of fans who will see him perform some songs that we all truly never thought we would experience outside our own personal, anxious, weird, awkward bubbles.

And dang it, that’s a comfort. To quote the philosopher himself: “If one day you happen to wake up and find yourself in an existential quandary, full of loathing and self-doubt and wracked with the pain and isolation of your pitiful meaningless existence, at least you can take a small bit of comfort in knowing that somewhere out there in this crazy mixed-up universe of ours, there’s still a little place called Albuquerque.”

View our full photo gallery from Tuesday night's show here.

Night 1

Velvet Elvis
The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
Buy Me a Condo
Good Old Days
Dare to be Stupid (classic rock version)
Why Does This Always Happen to Me?
My Own Eyes
I Remember Larry
Midnight Star
The Night Santa Went Crazy
You Don’t Love Me Anymore
Let Me Be Your Hog
Medley: Eat It, Lost on Jeopardy, Amish Paradise, Smells Like Nirvana, White & Nerdy, I Love Rocky Road, Like a Surgeon

All Star (Smash Mouth cover)
The Saga Begins

Night 2

Nature Trail to Hell
Generic Blues
Mr. Popeil
Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me
Dog Eat Dog
Close But No Cigar
One More Minute
Young, Dumb & Ugly
Don’t Download This Song
When I Was Your Age
Christmas at Ground Zero
Jackson Park Express
Medley: Eat It, Lost on Jeopardy, Amish Paradise, Smells like Nirvana, White & Nerdy, I Love Rocky Road, Like a Surgeon

Squeeze Box (The Who cover)

Notebook dump: Al: “We’re gonna do a deep cut from the Polka Party album...I guess that was kind of redundant, wasn’t it.”

Overheard in the crowd: An usher offering the 12-year-old girl in front of me earplugs, presumably because Al and the band were rocking just too dang hard.

Notes on the opener: Emo Philips deserves a review all his own. It was a real treat for long-time “Weird Al” fans to have Philips opening for him on this tour, as he made a memorable appearance in Yankovic’s 1989 comedy UHF. Coming on stage with his frazzled mushroom haircut looking like he’s about to audition for a role on Doctor Who, Philips offered not so much a flowing set as a staccatoed series of paraprosdokians (That’s your word of the day! Look it up!) that were just the right blend of hilarious and disturbing. Philips had apparently been asked by a City Pages writer what his favorite joke that he’s ever written is, and he decided to answer it from stage: “That’s like asking a mom which child is her favorite: obviously the ones that slip out the easiest.”