Between the song parodies, his corny-yet-lovable sense of humor and a quasi-nerdy affection for the accordion, it could have been easy to dismiss “Weird Al” Yankovic as a mere novelty act. In an appearance early in the California native’s career on Tomorrow with Tom Snyder in 1977, the late talk show icon quiped, “Great performance Al; don’t quit your day job.”
Yet more than four decades later, Yankovic’s day job has gotten him established as a pop culture icon, thanks to a tireless work ethic that has earned him 15 Grammy nominations and four wins and a canon of songs and videos that have found him brilliantly poking fun at hit songs by a broad swath of artists including Nirvana, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke.
On top of that, Yankovic has directed music videos for other artists (Hanson, The Black Crowes, Ben Folds), written children’s books (When I Grow Up; My New Teacher and Me!) and done voice-over work on a number of animated shows including Milo Murphy’s Law, Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, BoJack Horseman and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy.
Yankovic’s prolific creative drive and love of performing now has him hitting the road helming what’s been dubbed The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour. It’s a far simpler affair than the props-loaded, parody-song driven shows fans are accustomed to seeing him trot out, such as on his last concert jaunt, The Mandatory World Tour.
“This is a much different tour,” Yankovic explains. “I did the Mandatory World Tour and that was the full-on production tour with the costumes and props and the video screens — it was the whole multi-media extravaganza. On this tour, it’s something that we’ve never really ever done before. It’s very scaled-down, and not only that, but the setlist is very different. We’re not playing the hits — we’re playing all the deep cuts and all the original songs and that’s one of the things that excites me about this particular tour. In all my other shows, because it’s such a highly produced show, one song by de facto has to go into the next song because the costumes are waiting backstage. It’s like a Broadway musical and we have to do it the exact same way every night, whereas now that there’s no extraneous production, we can literally do a different show every night, and that’s exactly what we intend to do. We’ve learned over four hours of material and every single show will be different.”
Joining Yankovic on the road will be longtime bandmates John “Bermuda” Schwartz on drums, guitarist Jim West and bassist Steve Jay, all who were recruited between 1980 and 1982. Rounding out the group is keyboardist Rubén Valtierra, a band member since 1992 who’s still considered the new guy in the band.
The preparation for this unique presentation of the Yankovic catalog comes on the heels of the release of last year’s Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of “Weird Al” Yankovic, a career-spanning box set of all 14 of his albums that also includes a rarities album and a 120-page book of archival photos. As Yankovic had final approval of the remastering and was a member of the art direction team, he got to delve pretty deep into his old material for the box set, something he normally doesn’t do once he’s done recording a song.
“It was nice to be able to revisit those old songs. I listen to the music a lot while I’m recording it and up until the point that it comes out, then I put it away and don’t listen to it anymore. So this was an opportunity to go back and listen to a lot of these songs for the first time in a long time,” Yankovic explaines. “As an artist, sometimes you just hear the mistakes — ‘Maybe I would have done this one better or that one was a little flat.’ But with the passage of a lot of time, you forget about a lot of the mistakes you may have made and think it sounds kind of cool.”
Having started out taking music lessons as a kid after a traveling salesman came by the family home offering a choice of either the guitar or accordion (“My parents thought, ‘It would be nice for young Alfie to have some musical training. We want him to be popular in high school, so of course, accordion.’”), Yankovic grew up idolizing his Mount Rushmore of parody influences — Allan Sherman, Spike Jones, Tom Lehrer and Stan Freberg — along with other favorites, including Frank Zappa, Monty Python and Shel Silverstein. But it was eclectic radio host Dr. Demento who gave him his first break and continues to be a good friend.
“Dr. Demento gave me my start. When I first started recording music, I certainly wasn’t thinking in terms of a 40-year recording career,” Yankovic says with a laugh. “I was 15 and 16 years old in high school and was recording with my accordion in my bedroom into a 39-cent cassette as a goof. This was a few decades before YouTube and there was no other way to get my material out there. I thought Dr. Demento might play it, and to my amazement, he did. There is no other person in the world at the time who would have given airtime to someone like me. If he had never existed, my life, I’m sure, would have taken a much, much different trajectory.”
And the world wouldn’t be quite the same.
Three cheers for Dr. Demento.
On the Bill: “Weird Al” Yankovic. 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 1, Paramount Theatre, 1621 Glenarm Place, Denver. $45-$79.50.