I’ve seen “Weird Al” live three times now and I have never been disappointed by the show. The first year my friend Matt and I waited out by the bus and got the bands’ (minus Al’s) autograph. The second time we waited even longer and Al had an autograph (and picture taking) session in the theater after the show (how cool is that?).
This year, Sarah and I didn’t wait around afterwards (kids at home) but the show was still great. Al made a joke after the first song thanking his opening act, Technical Difficulties. (There were indeed 45 minutes of technical difficulties before the show, but Al’s joke made us quickly forget it–and, kudos to the State Theater: I ordered my tickets online from their site and the day after the concert, the theater owner sent an email apologizing for the delay. Classy!).
Sarah had never seen him perform before, so she was pleasantly surprised by the set selection. I was also surprised by the set selection because he pulled out a few older, more obscure tracks (“Frank’s 2000″ TV” (!), “You Don’t Love Me Any More”–complete with Al smashing a guitar!). But he also dazzled with some new tracks from his forthcoming album.
The set opened with the polka medley (“Polka Face”). This is the first polka medley that I didn’t know any (well almost any) of the sped up songs, but it’s always a treat to watch them play it live. The one complaint with the show was that the sound in the theater wasn’t very good (which is surprising given that it’s an old theater) so it was hard to make out a lot of the words, especially to the new songs–and what’s Al without the lyrics?). But his new song “I Perform This Way” (parody of Lady Gaga’s “I Was Born This Way”) was fantastic (Al was dressed up like a cartoon peacock).
Yes, costume changes. One of the most entertaining things about Al’s shows is the costume changes. For all of his big video hits, he comes out dressed like the video (the band does as well, although it’s a bit more subtle). So, we get the Amish garb in “Amish Paradise,” the Michael Jackson red jacket for “Eat It”–(another surprise) and, my personal favorite, the fat suit from “Fat.” One of the funniest costume changes was for a song that will sadly not be released on the album (but you can hear and download it here), “You’re Pitiful,” in which he wore multiple T-shirts (about 5) which all expressed some kind of funny comment (anyone know who was the face on one of the shirts?) and finally ended in a Spongebob Squarepants shirts and tutu.
So how does he do all of these costume changes? In between songs, when the band runs offstage, they play wonderful video clips. Some of the clips are from his TV shows, some are faux documentaries, and the best are interviews that Al splices together (you can see a whole bunch here) which are hilarious and surprisingly mean-spirited. I wish he would release them (and any other AlTv segments) on DVD, but I imagine that no one would ever give permission for that–check out the Kevin Federline one, for instance. But they’re all pretty great.
The crowd was also totally into it (including the guy behind us with an Al wig (and a Harvey the Wonder Hamster). And the age range was fantastic–from kids to grandparents. My only hope is that my kids are old enough to come to a concert next time he comes around.
Oh and a brief word about his band. He’s had the same four guys with him for years and years and years. Rubén Valtierra is the newest member of the band and he’s been with them since 1991. Jim West (guitar), Steve Jay (Bass) and Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz (drums) have been with Al since 1980. They are tight as a drum, can play incredibly diverse styles at the drop of a hat (check out “CNR” which sounds exactly like The White Stripes) and they all seem to have a lot of fun on stage (see them jump in the air on “Fat” or the crazy vocal-only solo at the end of “Yoda”
–which I think is longer than ever and totally mind-blowing).
[READ: May 21, 2011] This is a Book
I recently read Martin’s “This is Me” in the New Yorker. “This is Me” is, along with about 100 other things in This is a Book. I also heard Demetri Martin on NPR a few Sundays ago and he read a few short things from This is a Book. And they were quite funny.
Indeed, the funny things in this book are really very very funny. It seems to work that the shorter the item, the bigger the laugh. Conversely there are a number of longer, extended jokes which just go on and on, like a Saturday Night Live sketch that just won’t end. Those quickly lose their humorous value. Fortunately there aren’t too many of those in here.
What makes me smile a lot about the book are the jokes he plays with book conventions. So the title page says “This is a book by Demetri Martin called This is a Book by Demetri Martin.” Or the previous page:
Also by Demetri Martin
*Nothing yet. This is his first book.
The book opens with “How to Read this Book.”
If you’re reading this sentence then you’ve pretty much got it. Good job. Just keep going the way you are.
I’m not going to spoil the rest of the book (or talk about each piece). But I will mention some real highlights:
- “Ideas & Opinions” (many short ideas)–very funny.
- “Genie”–one of the longer pieces (5 pages) that doesn’t wear itself out.
- “Statistics” is a great collection of true (yet absurd) statistics.
- “We’re Pregnant” is a very funny extension of the joke that men always say “we’re pregnant.”
- “Protagonist’s Hospital” is a very funny skit (I could see Conan doing it) in which all of the patients at the hospital are gorgeous and suffer very shallow wounds.
- “Frustrating Uses of Etc.” takes the yadda yadda joke from Seinfeld to an illogical extreme.
- “A Christmas Carol (The Deleted Scene)” introduces the ghost of future perfect, which is quite amusing to a grammar nerd.
Some of the longer ones that wear themselves out: “Megaphone” (he talk through a megaphone a lot); “How I Felt” (the joke is the use of colors as descriptors and it is waaaay to long) & “Socrates’ Publicist” which again, is just way too long for the simple joke of Socrates having a publicist. (Some of the longer pieces end with a punchline that justifies the length, but these don’t).
One of the pieces that begins funny but then goes too far–almost as if it’s an exercise he must finish is “Palindromes for special occasions.” The first few are short and funny. (“Gently informing a DJ that there is a problem with the sound system: No music is, um, on.”) But the final one is a four page palindrome. It’ very impressive that he was able to work out the whole thing, but it’s just not very enjoyable. It’s awkward (with lots of “boob” thrown in) and tedious to read. Although as I say, I’m impressed that he was able to actually do it.
These longer pieces are more than made up for by Martin’s drawings which are wonderful one-panel cartons with (sometimes) captions. They are all very funny, especially if you have to think about them for a minute to get them. I particularly enjoyed the “awkward teenage phase” of the letter “r” (you have to see it). There’s also Charts and Graphs which are a similar short jokes but in graph form. Martin has a wonderfully skewed view of the world.
And “Crossword Puzzle” is very funny. He took a random crossword and filled in all the boxes with the letter A (AA, AAAAAA etc) then he made up clues that actually worked for them (“An opera singer’s vanity plate?”).
Two of the funniest pieces are “Spanish Teacher” in which a Spanish teacher meets an old high school student and talks to him in Spanish (with hilarious consequences). And “Zing!” in which we see the consequences of great comebacks.
There are also a couple of exceptions to the longer pieces not being enjoyable. “Sheila” is an actual short story (not a long joke) and as such it works very well. It’s not the funniest thing in the book, but it’s not meant to be. Nevertheless, the story never loses focus and it never drags. Indeed, even though it’s a silly premise (dating a dead person) the narrative was compelling (and it was lightly amusing).
“Goreburg and Spatz” was similarly strong. A long story (9 pages) which has some depth of character and doesn’t sacrifice story for jokes (although the ending is a nice zing).
It can’t be easy creating this many funny ideas. And I can see why he didn’t want his whole book to be just a bunch of one-liners. So I applaud Martin for trying a few of these longer pieces. But I can’t recommend all of them. If you, like my wife, stick to all of the short ones (3 pages or less) you will not be disappointed by this book. And it may make you want to check out his stand up (like I will do now).