I thought I had left myself plenty of time. I figured three hours was enough to account for the evening traffic down the 405 to Costa Mesa, home to the Orange County fairgrounds … and I was correct.
What I didn’t plan on was the herd of cars and orange cones blocking my way into the parking areas, where I was slowly and continually redirected to other entrances similarly obstructed by cars and cones.
I finally decided to park in a nearby neighborhood and make the 20-minute walk to Pacific Amphitheatre. Swimming through a sea of brake lights and exhaust switched to schools of families scurrying to and from the various food vendors. I caught a whiff of hot dogs and jalapenos, briefly overpowering the faint but constant scent of cotton candy and spilt beer.
Beyond the food, the rides and the games, the OC Fair is well known for the musical acts that come through during its month-long run in the heart of summer. Last year alone saw such world famous bands as Kool and the Gang, Toto, Ratt and Earth, Wind and Fire (for whom my own cover band, Core Elements, opened earlier in the day).
As I passed through security and made my way to my seat, the Pacific Symphony was in the midst of performing an array of movie themes, including John Williams classics from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman and, of course, Star Wars. The orchestra has become a staple of the OC Fair festivities on its own, but for this evening it would be integral to the performance of the headliner as well.
After playing for about 30 minutes, the musicians took a 15-minute break before reassembling and running through “Fun Zone,” an instrumental from the cult-adored movie UHF. The murmurs of the crowd grew denser as the onlookers could sense the time was near. As the song continued, a band approached the stage, along with three female backup singers, and then the man himself, Mr. “Weird Al” Yankovic. The cheers reached a crescendo as the orchestra began an unplugged medley of three of his earlier hits, ending with “Like a Surgeon.”
Yankovic, decked out in his usual color crazy, unbuttoned collared shirt and sparkly shoes, belted out the final note of his Madonna inspired parody and continued into “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” the first of several album-ending epics he would record and one of a pair he would perform this evening. These tend to be long, stream of conscious stories of events tied together by a singular, sometimes small but always unifying theme. In this case it was a road trip with his family to visit what they believe to be the greatest spectacle in the country.
From there, the group performed several of Yankovic’s more popular songs, with their corresponding music videos shown on large screens overhead. Combined with the orchestra, this was nothing short of a sensory extravaganza, and those caught staring at the screens risked missing the action below. For example, during “Jurassic Park,” where the Claymation music video shows Al’s character frantically running from a pack of escaped dinosaurs, Al himself was using a break in the vocals to sit down, receive a massage and a wet towel, and sip a glass of champagne before it was time to sing the final chorus.
The next highlight of the evening came as Al excused his drummer and bassist for a song, lamenting how difficult it would be to get through it with just his guitarist … and the 42 members of the orchestra. This set the mood for “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” one of his best known originals. It’s seemingly quiet and melancholy at the onset, with little more than acoustic guitar and background strings. However, by the end of the first verse, it becomes clear that the lyrics are wrought with the sarcasm and irony that have commonly made his songs some of the funniest ever written. Case in point:
You slammed my face down on the barbecue grill
Now my scars are all healing but my heart never will.
Watching Yankovic perform only enhances the experience, as he spent various parts of the song pretending to begin playing the guitar he held in his lap, only to swing it around his back to grab the mic just before he continued singing as the crowd roared with laughter. (The only action that acoustic guitar ever actually received was when he maniacally smashed it at the end of the song.)
During “Tacky,” Al left the stage and walked up and down the aisles with a cameraman ahead of him, all being shown on the big screens. Anyone who’s a fan knew that he was emulating the music video for the song and wasn’t shy about shaking his hand or giving a brief hug as he walked by, even as he sang, “Are you pregnant girl, or just really fat?”
At one point in the show, he wanted to speak candidly about how special it was for him to perform with the orchestra and that there was a song he had not yet performed live because it could only be done properly with a symphony. He continued, “So, here it is. Unabridged and in all its glory …” And everyone onstage went into the 20 second ditty, “Harvey the Wonder Hamster.”
The second portion of his set was comprised of several costume changes offset by a montage of video footage shown on the big screens. Much of it included clips of cartoons and TV shows where Yankovic was referenced or even included in, such as Family Guy, Friends, The Simpsons and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Also shown was a faux documentary movie preview from 2010 about Yankovic’s rise to fame, as well an episode of Jeopardy where every category was a Weird Al song.
Yankovic performed “Smells Like Nirvana,” “Dare To Be Stupid,” “White and Nerdy” and “Amish Paradise” with the band in full costume resembling each music video. He then began a James Brown-inspired round of credits for each of the band members and stage participants, adding that he wished they could play all night long but that it was not logistically possible due to union guidelines and financial implications.
As everyone exited the stage to chants of “We want Al!” the keyboard player had snuck back on, draped in a black, hooded cloak. He proceeded to play the beginning of Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor as the crowd started to realize that Weird Al was on his way back to the stage to perform songs from one his favorite topics not involving food.
Soon after, an army of Stormtroopers marched onstage along with Darth Vader and various other Star Wars characters. The rest of the band reentered, once again joining in on the wardrobe fun, with Al emerging as Obi-Wan Kenobi. This could only mean a special performance of “The Saga Begins,” the story of Episode One parodying Don McLean’s “American Pie.” The delighted crowd sang along to the final chorus and would continue right through the final song of the evening, “Yoda.”
With a career of 40+ years that includes 14 studio albums, a feature film, his own TV shows, several tours and countless other appearances and references, it comes as no surprise that a Weird Al live show is also top notch, cementing his legacy as possibly the greatest musical comedian of all time.
I Lost On Jeopardy / I Love Rocky Road / Like a Surgeon
The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
Don’t Download This Song
Weasel Stomping Day
You Don’t Love Me Anymore
Harvey the Wonder Hamster
Jackson Park Express
Smells Like Nirvana
Dare To Be Stupid
White and Nerdy
The Saga Begins