Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

My attempt to get to the St James Theatre in Auckland an hour before Weird Al Yankovic’s concert would start had failed.

I just had to keep stopping. At one point I bought my refreshments for the show and then had to go back to the shop to buy them again. Grrrrrr.

Locating where Auckland's St James Theatre was on Queen Street actually turned-out to be quite easy though. Sure – it’s hidden inside a block, but the two huge queues coming out of the small entrance sort of gave it away.

Flatmate Dave hadn’t been able to make it in the end, so as I filed down the pavement towards the door, I spotted a slightly depressed looking figure outside. He was an unlucky fan who hadn’t been able to get a ticket, so today was his lucky day! I declined his offer of payment, something I berated myself for afterwards, but I was in a pretty good mood myself, and was happy to make his day.

I had bought a stalls ticket, however once inside the theatre I was surprised to find that the seats were all grouped around circular dining tables. The area immediately in front of the stage was about 3 tables deep, behind which the rest of the stalls area was on a raised platform all the way to the back. I was seated at the front of this raised area on the right – on the same level as the stage and able to see right over the heads of everyone in front! The stage was about 5 metres away from me, if that, and the rail in front of my seat would make a perfect surface for my camera. Just like in my dream, I had pretty well one of the very best seats in the house.

Sam Wills
The warm-up artist Sam Wills came on and did his routine, which I think everyone in New Zealand has seen by now, but it was still very funny. (I saw him do this twice down in Havelock North and Napier with Jamie) What a shame he hadn’t done his homework on who he was opening for though – Weird Al is a family-friendly performer and doesn’t swear, so there were probably kids in the audience.

The interval before the main show proper was due to start. It was hot, and I took the risk of heading out to the bar to get yet another drink. I stood in a short queue for absolutely ages, fretting everytime I heard a huge cheer from the theatre, which I later discovered were all false alarms.

Back in my seat with a fresh glass of fruit juice in my hand, the show actually started with a few surreal video-clips that I fretted the general public might not ‘get’.

Then the video-clips ended, and I don’t think there’s anyone else in the world who can get so much applause for walking onto a stage carrying an accordion.

Somebody told me, You had a boyfriend, Who looked like a girlfriend...
As he launched into his opening medley of recent hits entitled Polkarama!, I had to take-in just how ironic the parody was. Weird Al is just not as young as he used to be, and watching a 47-year-old guy wrangling an accordion lent the entire silly parody a deadpan tone that suggested he was actually a genuine folk-player taking the whole thing quite seriously.

I listened hard. Having not really heard his most recent album yet, I had no idea if this track was from it, or a completely new one especially for the show. One thing I had definitely come hoping to hear was at least one song that had never been released, preferably because he hadn’t been granted permission.

Bob - a song composed entirely of palindromes, in the style of Bob Dylan
In the event there were loads of tracks that I had never heard of. Partly this was because there were so many from the aforementioned latest album (which I had only watched the videos from), but also cropping-up were...

You're Pitiful
... You’re Pitiful (based on James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful which can be downloaded from his Myspace page) and...

I'm In Love With The Skipper
...I’m In Love With The Skipper based on T-Pain’s I’m N Luv (Wit A Stripper), both of which were dropped from the same album.


A Complicated Problem:
"How was I supposed to know that we were both related?
Believe me if I knew she was my cousin then we never would have dated!
What to do now? Should I go ahead and propose,
and get hitched and have kids with eleven toes,
and move to Tasmania where that kind of thing is tolerated?”

(on the original CD “Tasmania” was “Alabama”)

The whole show lasted a whopping 2 hours+, and gave the impression that Al had been on stage constantly. In fact he performed so many costume-changes between numbers (frequently stripping-off to reveal his next bizarre outfit underneath) that many of these changes had been covered by the screening of various TV sketches of his from through the years. His fake interview with Eminem was one that I had seen before and had only found the first minute of funny, yet to watch it now on a huge screen, together with an even huger audience laughing at it, transformed the whole thing into something hilarious.

Smells Like Nirvana (note the guy in the black Nirvana t-shirt!)
Many of his well-known chart hits were a bit like watching his pop videos being reenacted on stage, with Al wearing the same costume and repeating many of the same gags. In the circumstances I had to wonder what it was that made watching a live performance so much “better” than a carefully edited video one.

Couch Potato
The excerpt from Couch Potato (based on Lose Yourself by Eminem) was particularly fascinating to watch from this perspective, given the way the video had had to be abandoned when only half shot due to a rights disagreement. This was therefore a glimpse of a video that we would never now see.

It must also be said that some of these well-known parodies surely owe their longevity and catchiness to the success and familiarity of the original. The final chorus of The Saga Begins (based on Don McLean’s infamous American Pie) had the entire theatre singing along like a football crowd.

The Saga begins
We were singin'
My, my, this here Anakin guy,
May be Vader someday later,
Now he's just a small fry,
And he left his home,
And kissed his mommy goodbye,
Sayin' "Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi."

Eat It
Finally, after over two hours, the weirdest live video reenactment took place by way of the finale.

Fat - video
On the huge video-screen, they showed us the opening black-and-white dialogue exchange from the video of Fat. Al shot this about 20 years ago now – back when he still had his then-trademark moustache and big glasses. Today he has neither, however when the old spoken video introduction finished and he came on stage to sing the actual song, in order to follow-on from the clip properly he was once again wearing his old glasses and a fake moustache! Now that’s nerdy!

Fat - LIVE!
Then, at last, the show was over. He introduced the individual band-members, we applauded and cheered, and they finally retreated off stage.

Well, you know the pantomime that played-out then.

Yes, we all yelled, cheered, clapped and kept on yelling, cheering and clapping for what seemed like far too long, until they finally acquiesced and returned, pretending like children that they had no encore planned.

Al asked the audience which track they would like to hear, and suddenly everyone was yelling at the tops of their voices. Nothing was distinguishable. I think I yelled “Everything You Know Is Wrong” and “Bohemian Polka”, but only because I wanted to take part – I really didn’t care what he sang. Neither I think did the guy behind me who amiably got my attention because he could no longer see because, with most of the rest of the audience, I was standing up.

Ultimately everyone quietened-down and, and I discovered the answer to a long-held question.

Apart from his little-publicised sideline in recording instrumental tracks, Weird Al has spent his whole music career performing comedy songs – so does he ever perform serious ones in his spare time?

Look at this picture and guess what he’s singing:

Close To You
It’s Close To You by The Carpenters. Whether this was actually a truly straight rendition, or whether he was just singing it straight for a laugh I don’t know, but in betrayal of my younger self, I chose to believe the former.

A verse of that over and he suddenly burst into his eleven-minute epic Albuquerque. Al’s shaggy-dog-stories have never really been worth a second listen for me, but this time it was different. It was live, it was exciting, and once more we were all screaming along to the chorus.

Al: “Give me an A!”
Crowd: “A!”
Al: “Give me an L!”
Crowd: “L!”
Al: “Give me a B!”
Crowd: “B!”
Al: “Give me a U!”
Crowd: “U!”
Al: “Give me a… … uh …”

Finally, it really was the end. They all got off stage and having been made to applaud for so long after the first ending, we had fallen into their trap and just didn’t have the energy left to make out that we expected yet another one.

The applause died-down, the house-lights came-on, and everyone began milling around to leave.

Well, everyone except me, apparently. Although there was a sign in the bar inviting everyone to an after-show party there, it became clear that this simply wasn’t true. They were closing up. Not wishing to cut-down my options, I headed-up a long staircase to take as long as possible going to the furthest-away toilet, hopefully until the number of members of the public still present was somewhat less-impractical.

Then maybe, just maybe, the last few of us to leave might be able to get an autograph, and that photo I wanted. There was no harm in politely asking.

The question on my mind was this:

Was he really a super-successful pop star with ten body-guards surrounding him constantly?

Or, was he just a guy working in a theatre?

Click here for "Weird Al" And Me part 1 of 5.
Click here for "Weird Al" And Me part 2 of 5.
Click here for "Weird Al" And Me part 4 of 5.
Click here for "Weird Al" And Me part 5 of 5.

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