“Weird Al” Yankovic brought a 41-piece symphony orchestra to a sold-out Minnesota State Fair Grandstand Tuesday night as part of his Strings Attached tour—because why not?
A sold-out Grandstand meant 13,000 fans saw Yankovic at this Minnesota tour stop, more than three times the attendance of his last two Minnesota dates combined. The last time he headlined the Grandstand, during 2010’s The Internet Leaks Tour, he performed to about 7,000.
Which is why I left with a strange mixture of feelings. Joy, elation, exhaustion, to be sure—Yankovic shows are a bit of an endurance sport for long-time fans like me who bounce and jitter and sing and stand up and promptly sit down again upon realizing nobody else is standing up. I did all those things and closed all my Apple Watch activity rings in the process.
On the other hand, I felt a…sadness? An uncertainty? I’m still not sure. When, from the belly of the stage, the Minnesota Orchestra swelled into a round and rumbling rendition of “Fun Zone” from Al’s 1989 cult classic film UHF, my jaw dropped. His tried and true zippy and synthy show opening tune for years, a Pavlovian bell that indicates the beginning of a “Weird Al” live show, now sounded deep, sullen, moving. GREAT! In true Yankovic fashion, the first dominant paradigm being subverted in this show is his own.
After his now standard lounge-crooner-style medley of parody hits, he gave “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” the full symphony treatment. After that, I promptly forgot the orchestra was there for about five songs. Here’s where my feelings as a long-time dedicated “Weird Al” fan (Yankovician? Yankster? I’m going with Yankster) kick in.
I’m not sure what I expected. Perhaps the promise of a symphony orchestra planted in my brain the notion of a show full of old classics reimagined and rearranged in a whole new way, and I know I was thoroughly spoiled last year during Al’s deep cut "Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.” But returning to the trusted tour template I’d been seeing regularly since I first saw Yankovic in 1999 (at the age of 13) felt different. Or maybe I’m the one who’s different? The second half of the show, from “Smells Like Nirvana” through the encore, could have almost been plucked straight out of any of Al’s five album tours since 2006.
And that’s good, right? Old and new fans alike can enjoy the same “Weird Al” that I enjoyed years ago, with some of the newer songs peppered in. I was always happy, year after year, to see more or less the same show structure every tour—costume changes offstage met with clips of the bajillion or so times Yankovic has been referenced across pop culture, a clip or two from UHF, keyboardist Rubén Valtierra walking out in his Jedi robes, riling the audience in a particular way, then teasing us with a bit of Bach’s eerie Dracula-esque Toccata and Fugue in D minor before the band launches into Yankovic’s two Star Wars parody songs, “The Saga Begins” and “Yoda.” I could recite the cadence of the encore by heart (I announced his band members out loud right along with him, not missing a beat), and I always loved that.
Is it that after a full tour of self-indulgent deep cuts purely for fan service, I’m having trouble transitioning back to the tour standard? Or has something fundamental broken in me since the last time I saw an album tour (Mandatory Fun in 2015) and now, in The Year of Our Chaotic Demon-Spawn from Hell 2019, I’m incapable of true, earnest joy? What, in short, is wrong with me?
I don’t think I’m quite broken beyond repair, given that I once again cried actual human tears while I sang loudly along to “Amish Paradise.” I just wasn’t prepared for how different it would feel to return to something I’d loved so much, so many times, over the course of *checks calendar* approaching 20 years.
The Minnesota Orchestra, despite the awe-inspiring talent they added to the show, weren’t enough to stop my brain from melting down at the unfathomable notion of hoping for more. But who the hell am I to have such expectations? What am I owed, anyway? Nothing! “Weird Al” Yankovic, the actual hardest working man in show business, who is turning 60 in October, my dearest true love since junior high, is a precious thing, now more than ever.
Do not misunderstand me: I loved this show. The setlist was ripe with fantastic songs, both original and parody—from “Word Crimes” (Al’s vastly superior take on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”) to 1985’ “One More Minute,” an original ballad that sounds sexy and romantic until you listen to the lyrics, to his much beloved but little played 21-second long ode to a damn fine rodent, “Harvey the Wonder Hamster.”
I think, then, I can blame my personal brain crisis during this show on all the nostalgia that came whooshing back at my face like a particularly pernicious fart and made me wonder: What’s next for “Weird Al” Yankovic? He hasn’t released a studio album since 2014 and has said he’s unlikely to do so again, he released his complete works vinyl box set Squeeze Box in 2017, he did the deep-cut tour, followed closely by the regular tour but BIGGER and BADDER and with STRINGS, and…now what? It all feels like a culmination of sorts, but this was in no way a farewell tour, which means the future is uncertain. I can no longer expect to set my own personal growth clock to the tempo of his creative output.
Yankovic’s sold-out Grandstand performance was big, fun, spectacular, and I truly look forward to seeing what follows, because he’s always been capable of surprising us. For me, his reliability was simultaneously a blessing and a curse this time around. If you, reader, think I’m being a wee bit histrionic, I refer you back to the headline of this review.
Click here to see a photo slideshow of "Weird" Al at the fair
Random notebook dump: “Why oh why, after 20 years of dedicatedly seeing this man on tour, have I yet to be graced with a sweaty and sultry red velvet jacketed ‘Weird Al’ singing in my face during ‘One More Minute?’ Why must I always suffer the indignity of watching other people enjoy what I so clearly deserve myself? What’s a girl got to do to get some ATTENTION?!”
Overheard in the crowd: A kid, couldn’t have been more than 14, singing “Like a Surgeon” to himself before the show—a song that came out a year before I was born. I don’t know that kid, but I’m proud of him. He’s going places.
Notes on the opener: My Pronto Pup was as delicious as I expected it to be. My Bud Light Lime-A-Rita was not.
Medley: I Lost on Jeopardy, I Love Rocky Road, Like a Surgeon
The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
One More Minute
Don’t Download This Song
Weasel Stomping Day
Harvey the Wonder Hamster
Jackson Park Express
Smells Like Nirvana
Dare to be Stupid
White & Nerdy
The Saga Begins