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When I was 8 years old, a couple neighborhood friends and I formed a "Weird Al" Yankovic tribute band – covering his covers; so meta! What’s meta? – wherein we played his cassette tapes on a boom box and loosely accompanied the songs with our own instruments, which consisted of a broken keyboard, a toy guitar that didn’t work and recycling bins as drums. We were really bad, but one time a lady gave us $5 – probably the most money any of us had ever seen. So we took it to the gas station to buy candy, and shortly after, we retired our musical project.
That’s all to say that, while it was certainly a great deal of fun, "Weird Al" has a time and a place. Seeing Al perform now, as I did Wednesday night at Uline Warehouse, two decades later, is like running into one of those old friends after years of not staying in touch and, following the initial excitement and interest about what they're up to, soon realizing you don’t have a lot in common anymore and are talking to each other more out of courtesy than actually caring. And yet you continue the interaction, for reasons both of familiar nostalgia ("How’s your family? Still playing ‘Amish Paradise?’") and genuine curiosity ("What do you do these days? Are you rich?"). And ultimately, even though the experience was strange and went on too long, you were glad you had it.
So yes, "Weird Al" has a time and a place. Fortunately for me and most of the rest of the crowd, that time is apparently everlasting, and that place is definitely Summerfest. Even though I enjoyed the second half of his set with less enthusiasm than the first half – the last 15 minutes were particularly wearing, but maybe that was because it was 11:45 p.m. and the 56-year-old was doing his grating "Star Wars"-related stuff – the show was amusing, entertaining and truly appreciated by fans new and old.
In the end, I was glad when the whole thing was over – Al can sometimes sound like your upstairs apartment neighbor singing unrelentingly through the floorboards – but even more glad to have experienced it.
And for those of you who didn’t get to experience it, I documented the show – including songs, costumes, polka medleys, video montages and crowd interactions – in this live journal:
9:55 p.m.: Uline is about 90 percent filled, with packed front and middle sections and some seating available at the back and along the sides. I arrive early because responsible journalism, but when a young boy – perhaps 8 or 9, like a young me! – can’t see very well, I offer to switch seats with him so he has a better angle. He lights up like I gave him an extra birthday. This little dude will go on to sing and dance and laugh and smile at his father the rest of the night. Apparently, kids do still like "Weird Al."
A Weird Al concert absolutely, unequivocally better at age 39 than when I was 9. And it was a huge blast when I was 9. — Jim Kogutkiewicz (@jimmyfk) June 30, 2016
10 p.m.: The show starts with a montage of old cartoons, movies, commercials, political films and offbeat video clips on the big screen, before the words "Prepare … For … Mandatory … FUN" appear. "Mandatory Fun" is the name of Al’s 14th and most recent album, which released in 2014 and won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album.
10:01 p.m.: The first song of the set is "Tacky," a parody of Pharrell’s "Happy," and it involves the music playing and Al singing somewhere off stage. His meandering journey from the dressing room to the stage is captured on the screen, causing an excitable crowd to look frantically around in search of where he might emerge. Eventually, "Weird Al" scampers up on stage, high-fiving fans en route, wearing double Hawaiian shirts and colorful Zubaz pants. Objectively speaking, he rocks the first song.
10:04 p.m.: Al transitions right into a second song off his latest album, "Lame Claim to Fame," a style parody of Southern Culture on the Skids that self-deprecatingly brags about his tangential relationships with celebrities ("I had a car that used to belong/To Cuba Gooding Jr.'s uncle/A friend of mine in high school/Had jury duty with Art Garfunkel). Lots of jazz hands, crazy legs and high-energy convulsive dancing.
10:05 p.m.: Big ovation here because Al brings out his trusty accordion. "OK, Milwaukee, I probably shouldn’t even have to ask this," he says to the crowd. "But are you ready to polka?!" Bigger ovation, and he launches into a vigorous medley – not covers, but sped-up polka versions of popular songs – starting with Miley Cyrus’ "Wrecking Ball," the juxtaposed music video playing behind. He goes on to do "Gangnam Style," "Call Me Maybe," a dumb Black Eyed Peas song, "Somebody That I Used to Know," "Timber," "Sexy and I Know It," "Thrift Shop" and "Get Lucky." Exhilarating stuff.
10:10 p.m.: A middle-aged woman sitting nearby turns to the man she’s with, eyebrows raised, and shrugs her shoulders. Meanwhile, kids around us are laughing riotously. Sums up much of the night.
10:12 p.m.: Another video montage of old "Weird Al" appearances and clips, this one about five minutes, suggesting Al needs a longer-than-usual costume change for the next number. Or maybe this is just a creative, easy way to give him a rest. It certainly breaks up the set for the audience and gives us something different than a normal concert.
10:17 p.m.: A triumphant, stirring return to the stage with "Perform This Way," his parody of Lady Gaga’s "Born This Way." He’s wearing some sort of elaborate, purple, octopus boa outfit – I was right about him needing extra time – and one of his guitarists is wearing a Packers Cheesehead hat. These guys know their audience.
10:22 p.m.: A guy named Adam sits down next to me and says, "No ‘Amish Paradise’ yet, I hope? That’s really the only song I know." Not yet, my friend. But rest assured, it will come. It always does.
10:24 p.m.: "Dare To Be Stupid," which is actually an original techno song, with Al and company wearing radiation suits and just being very '80s.
10:25 p.m.: Weed! There’s weed in the air at a "Weird Al" show! Not sure if I’m surprised or totally unsurprised. Either way, a noble Summerfest concert tradition upheld at the Uline.
10:29 p.m.: Wow, this one brings me back. Al released "Fat" in 1988, the year I was born, and it’s one of the ones I remember singing in our "tribute band."
10:32 p.m.: Another video montage, including a priceless clip of Al "interviewing" Celine Dion. These packages are funny, but they get old pretty quick.
10:34 p.m.: "First World Problems," an original off "Mandatory Fun," wherein Al wears a button-down shirt and a tie and sings, Pixies-style, about things like the lack of gluten-free cookies in an airport lounge.
10:38 p.m.: You’re not going to be the world’s foremost comedic music parody person and not have one for Lorde’s "Royals." Al does indeed; it’s "Foil," and it’s an ode to aluminum foil. This is followed by yet another video montage. I think this one included a "Family Guy" clip. Al's hair has not changed in 30 years, and these two guys find the style timelessly imitable.
10:44 p.m.: Now we’re talking. Al ignites the crowd – and then throws water and the bottle on it to cool everyone off – with "Smells Like Nirvana," his 1992 parody of … well, you know. It’s punktacular, an old-school jam and a much-needed shot in the arm for the show.
10:48 p.m.: Speaking of much-needed, I go to get a refreshment. I think I hear "Ode To a Superhero," which is Al’s parody of "Piano Man." Will check back in a few.
10:56 p.m.: A whole slew of parodies as I’m walking back, including "Inactive" (a parody of Imagine Dragons’ unlistenable "Radioactive") and "eBay" (Al’s excellent spoof of Backstreet Boys’ "I Want It That Way"). Another video montage follows. Several refreshment sips also follow.
11:08 p.m.: The Michael Jackson obvious parody "Eat It" was released in 1984, won a Grammy and is still largely considered Al’s most successful hit, both commercially and critically. He slows it down for a more intimate version here. But for a song with these lyrics – "Don't you tell me you're full/Just eat it, eat it, eat it, eat it" – can there be an intimate version?
11:09 p.m.: I look around; people are actually bobbing their heads to this.
11:10 p.m.: "I Lost On Jeopardy," a takeoff of "Jeopardy," is followed by the popular "Like A Surgeon," which burlesques Madonna’s chaste anthem. At the end, Al holds a long vocal note, eliciting a loud cheer from the crowd and prompting a woman near me to say, "Wow, he actually has a pretty good voice."
11:16 p.m.: To roaring applause, after another video segment, Al roars back on stage on a scooter, wearing baggie jeans, a hoodie and a do-rag for "White & Nerdy," his version of "Ridin’ Dirty" by Chamillionaire. This is followed a few minutes later by "Word Crimes," the knockoff of "Blurred Lines," which includes Al in a Robin Thicke-like white-and-black striped suit. We’re starting to go off the rails here; another video thing, too.
11:28 p.m.: FINALLY. What Adam and everyone else was waiting for. The hugest cheer of the night is for 1996’s "Amish Paradise" – off Coolio’s "Gangsta’s Paradise" – a song that includes the lyrics "It’s all hard work and sacrifice," which could characterize Al’s career if one wanted to manufacture such a contrived analogy. Anyway, he’s got everyone waving their hands back and forth like it’s an actual hip hop show. Incredible. What is happening?
11:33 p.m.: After introducing the band, Al tells us we’ve been amazing, and he’d like to play all night, but "for various reasons, that’s just not feasible." He says he can’t do them all; he asks if we want one more. Some people say they want one more. He says he can’t do it and leaves the stage. What is this deceit?
11:36 p.m.: Some people have left – including one who just wanted to "beat the crowd" – but Al comes out and orchestrates some fun crowd play, pointing at one side of the audience, then the other, as the stage lights follow back and forth, generating competing "woos!" and "yeahs!" among his fans.
11:38 p.m.: Suddenly Darth Vader and Stormtroopers appear. Al comes out as Obi-Wan, singing "We All Have Cell Phones," no doubt a mock-reminder to fans to look up, pay attention once in a while and stop taking pictures at concerts all the damn time. Or maybe not because everyone thrusts their phones up, lighter-style.
11:41 p.m.: Thus it is. Al launches into "The Saga Begins," a parody of Don McLean’s "American Pie" that is both as long and as detailed as the original but in describing the plot and universe of "Star Wars." It’s a crowd-pleaser, but it definitely loses me.
11:46 p.m.: Still going.
11:48 p.m.: Pretty funny moment when Al says to the crowd, "OK, now you sing it," and we do, and then he addresses a girl in the front row, "OK, now just you," and she sings a couple lines all by herself.
11:50 p.m.: Al and the band are singing "Yoda" and doing some sort of obnoxious chant interlude that’s not super great for listening. People are taking cell-phone videos of all of this, but I seriously doubt they are going to watch them again.
11:52 p.m.: Al pretends to slam his accordion, which draws excitement, then sets it carefully down and says, "Thank you, Milwaukee. Goodnight!" That gets the big ovation, and everyone does seem to leave happy. Because, really, how can you not after a "Weird Al" show?
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.