Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Weird Al Yankovic at the Masonic Auditorium

There’s something different about a Weird Al crowd. It’s an odd family atmosphere. The hard core fans waited for a couple of hours to get into the Masonic Auditorium even though they had assigned seats. Some of them were dressed like the Flintstones, surgeons and other characters from Weird Al videos. Some wore tin foil hats and even tin foil skirts and pants. It makes sense if you’ve seen the videos. There were many family groups passing the torch to a new generation.  
Almost twenty years ago, I had taken my daughter and her friend to see Weird Al at The Fillmore. I was surprised at how young the crowd was. Most of the crowd was under sixteen. I had thought Al’s humor would be over their heads, but I had underestimated the youth of America. Many of them knew all the lyrics. It was the power of MTV, which actually showed music videos back then.
This was Weird Al’s Mandatory World Tour. On the big screen behind the stage, a stern looking, uniformed Weird Al looked up into the horizon as the crowd found their seats. Here’s a bit of a disclaimer. I worked this show as an usher, but was able to watch and hear most of it.
The band started playing onstage. On the big screen behind them we could see Weird Al downstairs in the Exhibition Hall of the Masonic Auditorium. A remote video crew is doing a live stream to the big screen over the stage. Those in the crowd who had waited before the show knew exactly where he was. Al is in the building!   
He comes up the stairs singing “Tacky.” It’s based on an upbeat tune, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Weird Al is wearing a very loud plaid and paisley suit. After coming up the stairs singing, Al went out through a side door and walked down California Street. Even in San Francisco it must have been a sight to see Weird Al walking down the street with a video crew trailing him. 
Now we see him approaching the front doors and just about everyone has figured out what’s going on by now. There’s a big cheer. It’s a Weird Al cheer! He’s getting closer. He comes in the door and serenades a surprised looking security guard. He’s getting closer! Al crosses the lobby and bursts in through one of the back doors. The crowd goes wild! 
Al slows down as he makes his way to the stage. He’s high five-ing people and singing. He takes his time going through the crowd. There’s another roar when he gets up onstage! Entering from the back of the venue is an old show business trick. It sure worked tonight, and got the show off to a very exciting start.   
I had heard some of the new songs on Youtube. The first song onstage was “Lame Claim to Fame,” a parody of the group Southern Culture on the Skids. It’s almost a parody of a parody. Al mocks those with spurious claims to fame: “A friend of mine in high school, had jury duty with Art Garfunkel!” 
After the song, Weird Al held his accordion up over his head like the conquering Rock star would hold his axe aloft. Holding an accordion up in the air is impressive. “San Francisco! I just have one question: Are you ready to Polka!” and they do a ripping Polka number. Weird Al exults: “Now That’s What I Call Polka!” 
Half the show is the big screen behind the stage. We’re shown clips while Weird Al does a his costume changes. We see a trailer for “Gandhi II.” Gandhi is back and he’s dropped the nonviolent philosophy. He now kicks, maims and shoots his opponents. Epic Rap Battles features Sir Isaac Newton versus Bill Nye the Science Guy. Newton testifies about his effect on science and human history. Bill Nye is apparently out of his league. We see the trailer for Al’s cult film, UHF. 
One of Weird Al’s wildest videos is a take off on Lady Gaga: “Perform This Way.” Weird Al struts the stage in Lady Gaga/Carmen Miranda drag. The video overhead shows most of the video, with all the chameleon like costume changes it takes to poke a little fun at Lady Gaga. 
Weird Al will always bear the onus of doing “comedy music.” Even Frank Zappa had to deal with it. But Al’s lyrics are brilliant. I think he’s one of America’s greatest song writers. Some of the lyrics and videos are biting. He meets with the subjects of his parodies and gets their approval. Few have rejected his satirical tributes. 
Weird Al and Devo! What could be a weirder combination? The idea is mind boggling. “Dare To Be Stupid” gives them a chance to play some great synthesizer riffs. Al and the band wear the conical plastic red hats that Devo used to wear onstage. 
After another short break a bloated Weird Al comes back for “I’m Fat,” a take on Michael Jackson. He waddles around the stage in an inflated rubber suit. 
I used to recognize the songs Weird Al parodied, but now I have to look them up on Youtube to figure out what songs he’s covering. I learned that “Foil” is a parody of Lorde’s “minimalist electro-pop song ‘Royals.’” The first verse sings the praises of aluminum foil with its many useful purposes. But in the second verse he starts ranting about how the government is always watching us. Someone is always listening Aluminum foil saves the day again! Tin foil hats are easy to make and they will block the evil government’s radio transmissions and surveillance. Of all the nights for me to leave my tin hat at home!   
The song mentions The Illuminati! This really struck me. When I first came to San Francisco I was deep into The Illuminati trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Daniel Shea. The books may be a fictional account of an elite group of Masons founded in Bavaria in 1776. They were a kind of “super Masonic” secret society that some say ruled the world. I had been fascinated by the Masons and the conspiracy theories that surround them. When I first walked by the Masonic Temple and Auditorium I joked that the Masons were inside there watching us. Now I know they really do have video cameras that can monitor the premises while Weird Al is onstage singing about the Illuminati!
Nob Hill was always the small neighborhood that displayed San Francisco’s wealth. Celebrities and richer tourists can stay at one of the historic hotels. Grace Cathedral dominates the hill, and across the street is The California Masonic Memorial Temple. 
It’s a modern white marble building at 1111 California. I have a small piece of ephemera that tells the history of the building. It’s a small but well printed handout put out by the Masons. The Masonic opened in 1958. It has an auditorium where music concerts and other events can be held. It was renovated and reopened a year ago.
In front of the lobby are two tall marble pillars, “Symbolic of the pillars on the porch of King Solomon’s Temple, which represents the mythical origins of the fraternity.” Each pillar weighs more than 14 tons and is 23 feet high.
There is a huge “endomosaic” mural in the lobby. It took twenty months for artist Emile Norman to complete it. Materials like sea shells, sand and soils from around California are embedded in the mural. There is a Masonic Museum and Library upstairs. The Masonic is also a war memorial. A memorial sculpture juts out from one corner of the building, honoring all four branches of our armed forces.  
Weird Al is back onstage for one of his oldest songs: “Another One Rides the Bus,” to the tune of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” Weird Al got his start when he sent tapes to Dr. Demento’s radio show. He became a regular on the show and the rest was history. Dr. Demento has made many cameo appearances in Weird Al videos.
We imagine our entertainers live charmed lives, but into each life some rain must fall. Maybe being in the spotlight makes life’s more serious surprises more intense, especially for comedians. Tragedy struck Weird Al. Both of his parents died under mysterious circumstances. The elderly couple had started a fire in the fireplace. The flu didn’t work correctly and they died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Suicide was suspected, but it was later determined that it was a tragic accident.  
Weird Al was informed of his parent’s death a few hours before one of his concerts. Weird Al fans have a deep bond with him. His music and comedy had helped many of his fans through dark times. He went on with the show hoping that it would be good therapy for him. Maybe the fans would pick him up at what could be the lowest night of his life. It wasn’t just a case of “The show must go on!” 
We hear the problems of being the Marvel hero Spiderman in “Ode to a Superhero.” The tune is from Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” “Handy” is a takeoff on “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea. During “Canadian Idiot” (Green Day’s “American Idiot.”) streamers with the Canadian colors burst over the crowd. 
The hits start coming fast now. We see clips of Forrest Gump during “Gump.” Weird Al channels Kurt Cobain during his version of the Nirvana song: “Smells Like Team Spirit.” “Smells Like Nirvana.” 
The next might be an original: “Wanna Be Your Lover.” Weird Al comes off the stage and wanders the audience thrilling and embarrassing some female members of the audience. One of the lines is: “Do you mind if I chew on your butt!” 
We see a clip of Weird Al visiting the Simpsons while the band moves around. They’re on chairs in a mockup of those casual MTV acoustic sessions. They do a medley that includes “I Lost On Jeopardy” and “Rocky Road.” The songs are a bit slower and Al sings in a lounge lizard crooning style. 
One thing I noticed is that once the show started very few people left their seats. A few had to answer the call of nature, but this was more like a theater performance. No one wanted to miss anything. Weird Al is a great entertainer. His voice can be nerdy, but he’s a good singer. He kept the crowd laughing all night!  
We see some more clips and then Al rides a Segway onstage. He’s wearing a red bandana to sing “White and Nerdy.” He looked skilled at navigating that thing around a crowded stage. The song is a parody of “Ridin’” by Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone. 
I had to go to Youtube again to find out that “Word Crimes” is a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Weird Al laments the loss of proper grammar in cyberspace. It could be a nightmare song for any blogger. So what if I start a sentence with a preposition? Is that a crime? Weird Al believes that yes, it is!   

“Amish Paradise” Only Weird Al could combine the Amish lifestyle with gangster rap: “Now we’re going to party like it’s 1699!” This was one of the few songs where the subject, Coolio objected. He made vague threats. Later on he cooled off. Even Michael Jackson had been spoofed by Weird Al. Coolio lightened up. 
The finale was Al’s Star Wars epic, “The Saga Begins.” You can’t get much nerdier than that. 
There’s an interview posted on Weird Al’s web site. He’s on MSNBC talking about the future of music. Things change fast now. Everything is so topical and viral. It takes about a year to get enough songs together for an album. By then the songs are stale and outdated. Weird Al may be more popular than ever. He’ll do over a hundred concerts around the world during his Mandatory World Tour!