For the next several months, “Weird Al” Yankovic is on the road with his “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.” He’s playing sets almost entirely devoted to his own original songs, not the absurd parodies for which he’s known.
Not that he’s keeping the absurdity in check. Near the end of his first of two shows Sunday at the Wilbur Theatre, Yankovic noted that the first week of the tour had gone better than he might have assumed. He’d kept his expectations deliberately low, he joked, hoping fans would be able to go home thinking, “Well, at least Al had a good time.”
But a good time was undoubtedly had by all. From the moment Yankovic and his band took the stage, when he sat on a stool with a set of bongos and announced that he’d be playing a 30-minute solo — pause for laughter; “Just kidding. Forty-five minutes” — he had the sold-out crowd indulging his shtick.
Yankovic made news over the weekend when he released “The Hamilton Polka,” a five-minute medley of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash musical. When he mentioned it during the show, the audience roared.
“We want to play it for you now,” he said, and the cheers rose.
“But we can’t,” he continued with a mischievous grin. It’s too complicated, he explained, and the band hasn’t rehearsed it yet.
Even that cruel tease couldn’t turn the house against him. Yankovic’s original songs, scattered across more than a dozen albums and three-plus decades, are typically composed “in the style of” various familiar songs and acts. There’s a lot to choose from; on Sunday he claimed no fewer than five world-premiere live performances, including “Velvet Elvis” (in the style of the Police’s new-wave reggae), “Young, Dumb & Ugly” (in the style of Motley Crue), and “I’m So Sick of You” (in the style of Elvis Costello).
Flanked by longtime band members Jim West (on guitar) and Steve Jay (on bass), with drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz and keyboardist Ruben Valtierra in back, Yankovic kept his trusty accordion by his right side and an array of hand-held percussion instruments on a small table to his left. The fact that “Close But No Cigar” was inspired by the band Cake was pounded home by Weird Al’s incessant use of the vibraslap, the rattling wood-and-wire contraption that punctuates many Cake songs. But Yankovic also got laughs when he picked up other instruments with a flourish, then put them back down without playing them.
No musician, however vaunted, is spared Yankovic’s good-natured ridicule. He satirized Bob Dylan’s inscrutable “Subterranean Homesick Blues” on “Bob,” which is composed entirely of palindromes: “God! A red nugget! A fat egg under a dog!” His Doors pastiche was perhaps the show’s most spot-on parody, with its chintzy keyboards and bluesy guitar. A hushed breakdown erupted into a cathartic release, with Yankovic wailing like Jim Morrison about advertising on “Craigslist.”
True to the show’s experimental nature, the finale was a mashup of some of Yankovic’s biggest parody hits performed not in the style of the source material, but radically reworked. So “Eat It,” the Michael Jackson bite that established Yankovic’s fame back in 1984, sounded like the “Unplugged” version of Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” “Amish Paradise” became a snippet of lounge music. And — well, you get the idea.
The fans weren’t leaving without an encore, and they got one. It consisted of a straight version of Manfred Mann’s nonsensical classic “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” (“We just wrote this backstage,” Yankovic quipped) and Weird Al’s nod to the Kinks and “Star Wars,” “Yoda.”
Opening act Emo Philips — like Yoda, another frog-voiced philosopher of sorts — was a perfect match for the headliner. Both keep cartoon hairdos that trap them in the amber of the ’80s; both have an abiding love of the preposterous.
“I like to play chess with old men in the park,” Philips said, teeing up one of his jokes. “But where do you find 32 of them?”
“Weird Al” Yankovic
With Emo Philips
At the Wilbur Theatre, SundayJames Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.