Just a rock and roll accordion player.
"Weird" Al Yankovic has been the king of parody and music comedy for the last 20 years, and continues to do both original songs and parodies of pop-culture icons for legions of fans. By far the best selling comedic artist, he has four CDs that have sold over a million copies and eight that went gold; garnering seven Grammy nominations and two awards in the process. His music videos often get play both on MTV and VH-1 and he even had a morning television show. His live concerts are still one of the big highlights for fans, however, and now we have a full concert on this recent DVD release. This is, simply put, one of the finest concert discs I've yet seen, with top-notch video and sound, extras and the touches that turn an average music DVD into a great one.
Al Yankovic came on to the music scene thanks to the Dr. Demento radio show, who aired tapes of his accordion accompanied parodies. In 1979 he sent him "My Bologna," a take off of the then popular "My Sharona" by the Knack. Al recorded this song with his accordion in the bathroom (great acoustics) of the radio station he worked at as a DJ, where the name "Weird" Al was adopted. Not only was the song a smash with Demento fans, but it even found favor with the Knack themselves, who convinced their label Capitol Records to issue the satire as a single. Next was the popular "Another One Rides the Bus," from the popular Queen hit "Another One Bites the Dust." In 1983 Al signed on to Scotti Bros. Records, who produced his debut album "Weird" Al Yankovic. The song "Ricky," a take off of Toni Basil's hit "Mickey" and the "I Love Lucy" television series, was his first Billboard hit and the music video was a standard of the fledgling MTV network. It was his next album: 1984's "Weird" Al Yankovic in 3-D; and particularly the "Eat It" video, which mocked Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video scene-for-scene, became an MTV smash, and the Grammy-winning single reached the Top 15; bringing him into the mainstream. From there his career really took off; with a combination of parody, pop tunes set to polka melodies, and original comedic songs making him a staple of pop culture. In fact, Kurt Cobain, whose unintelligible lyrics for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was the butt of Al's "Smells like Nirvana." "He was really flattered that Yankovic parodied his song," says Michael Azerrad, author of "Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana." "It was the most indisputable acknowledgment yet that he had arrived. And he thought it was quite funny." Al does ask permission before doing a parody of a song, but most artists are also flattered.
Skipping forward to the present day, Al is still on tour for his "Running With Scissors" album, his 1999 gold record. He was executive producer of the recording of his 10/2/99 concert in San Rafael, CA and the resulting DVD Weird Al Yankovic Live!. His full two-hour show has been cut back to 90 minutes, partly because there are still a few concert numbers he isn't legally allowed to produce for retail sale, and the fact that gaps in the performance due to costume changes and between encores has been trimmed. Many of his most-loved hits are here, including "Dare to be Stupid," "Like a Surgeon," "One More Minute," "Amish Paradise," "Fat," and "Yoda." Hits from his latest album include "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi," "Jerry Springer," "It's All About the Pentiums," "Germs," and his take-off on The Phantom Menace "The Saga Begins" done to the tune of "American Pie." Of course there is also a polka medley and a collection of songs old and new done as a medley.
The concert moves at a breakneck pace, with several costume and stage changes on the fly, including take-offs of the looks of Devo, Nirvana, the Amish, and even the Flintstones. The music rocks, as Al moves between his "main axe" (his accordion) and standard keyboards. This guy is the pre-eminent rock and roll accordion player on the planet; not that he has a ton of competition. Still he plays his instrument of choice with all the skill and power of any standard rocker. Of course it's all funny; but it's good music too.
Okay, it's obvious I'm a Weird Al fan; I have been for years. Still a lot of people, many more famous, put out concert DVDs. What makes this disc special is all the attention paid to its production. Too many concert discs seem slapped together; often using substandard footage and soundtracks. Not this one. The video passes all my tests for such discs; the beard stubble test, the guitar string test, and my usual flaw search I do as a service to finicky videophiles everywhere. The level of detail is startling, and the picture has a transparent, three-dimensional quality. Few discs, even films seem this clear. Most concerts, and this one is no exception, are filled with lights and other elements that can make a proper transfer difficult, but this one comes through with flying colors.
The concert was recorded in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is essentially a 5-channel stereo track that Denon receiver owners would be familiar with. Dynamic range, frequency response, and envelopment are all terrific.
One area concert discs generally lack in are those extra touches and well…extras. One thing all concert discs should do is have lyrics optional as a subtitle, and this one does. The speed of delivery of some of the lyrics has prevented me from always being able to understand all the words and now my curiosity is satisfied; though in some cases I was just able to find out the line really was gibberish or in one case, Yiddish. There is extra content here as well. Two bonus music videos, for "The Saga Begins" and "It's All About the Pentiums" are offered, also in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround. A photo gallery and two "educational videos" are the rest of the content, although weblinks are also offered as DVD-ROM content. The educational videos are real educational films from the '50s with Al's unique dubbed narration. These have appeared on Al-TV, a series of features Al has done for MTV. I'll make an honorable mention for the menus, which are also first, rate as well. Oops…hold the presses. There is a hidden feature! The two music videos, "The Saga Begins" and "It's All About the Pentiums" have a commentary track with Al talking about the making of the videos. Just like a feature length commentary track but in this case the feature only lasts a few minutes. Still, very cool, and reinforces even more my prior opinion on the disc. I could also mention comedian Drew Carey has a cameo in the "Pentiums" video.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This isn't perfect. The main problem is with the soundtrack; background vocals are mixed a bit too low, making them a little harder to understand. The lead vocals, as well as all the instruments are fine. This is actually a small problem. The rest of this section is more of a wish list than complaint. I would have still liked to see more extras, such as bios or an interview with Al. The transfer was recorded in full frame; I would have preferred widescreen. Still what is there all shows thought and care.
The case is unlike anything I've seen before. I'm not saying it's bad but it's more like opening a book than a case. The case is very thin; you open the front and the back "cover" is like the inside of a jewel case. Guess I'll call it a "book case" for now. It does have the advantage of taking less space on your shelf at least.
Okay, some of you are snickering right now. Al Yankovic isn't for everybody. Not everyone "gets" his humor. Some of it is pretty cerebral, some of it demands you know who or what he is doing a parody of, and some of it is just plain goofy. Still I always get a chuckle out of his stuff, and this concert was great. Fans of Al should grab this one up without a second thought, and those who haven't been exposed should rent it.
Al, you have my congratulations on putting on a great show, and in knowing how to do a DVD right. You also have my envy for being so damn limber at your age. All involved with the production of this disc have my best regards as well.
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