Monday, April 23, 2018

Our Evening With Al

By Dave

If I was going to make a list of my top 5 heroes or people that were most influential to me – post probably not coming soon – Weird Al would be on it. Probably top 3.

Last year when tickets went on sale for The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour I didn’t really know what it was going to be. I just knew that there was a VIP package and that I had to take the opportunity to meet an entertainer that has had a lasting and powerful impact on my life. I also knew that I wanted to bring Phantom, Jr. with me.

My son’s first big concert was Al’s Atlanta stop on the Mandatory Fun tour. We had an amazing time and I think it opened him up to music a little more. Certainly to live music. He loves Weird Al much the way I did when I was his age, so going to see him perform again and to actually be able to meet this legend of comedy and music was something we had to do.
The website was pretty clear that this tour would be something very different and special. I was a little nervous about Phantom, Jr.’s reaction to a stripped-down Al show minus the costume changes and videos and whatnot, but I felt strongly that in the long run he’d look back on this night as something truly remarkable. That we both would.
At least, I hoped he would because the VIP meet and greet tickets were really, really expensive. Like, I never imagined I would pay even half of what one of them cost to go to any concert, ever. But this was Weird Al and this was special.
For just the MSRP of one human kidney you got:
One (1) Premium Reserved Ticket in the first 15 rows
Meet and Greet with Weird Al. Includes signature (any one item of your choice) and photo (with your camera).
Be a part of Weird Al Jeopardy! – a Pre-Concert Game Show Experience challenging people to the ultimate Weird Al trivia contest. Register for the chance to be a contestant, or just play along from the audience (Shhh! No shouting answers!)
Custom Framed Set List from your own unique show (every show on the 2018 Tour has a different set list!)
Exclusive, Limited Edition Weird Al Wristwatch with moving limbs as hour and minute hands
Souvenir VIP Laminate
Crowd-Free Merchandise Shopping
Pre-Show Hang with fellow fans — including cash bar* with complimentary non-alcoholic beverages & one (1) drink ticket*
Early Entry into the Venue
On-Site VIP Host
Fifteen rows goes a lot further back then you think it does. We were twelve rows back and I’ll be honest, I didn’t feel very VIP. I will make a few such observations over the course of this post, but I don’t want you to think the night was anything less than absolutely awesome. Or that there’s any kind of ill will towards Al or even the company responsible for the VIP production. There were just a few things that weren’t as special as I was expecting and I suppose it’s on me for not being more familiar with this sort of thing and for not “managing my expectations”, as our old pal Toy Guru used to say.

That’s a nifty list of stuff up there, but the only important thing to me was the meet and greet. Everything else was just garnish. Even the watch – an item that would only be available here – wasn’t of much interest because neither my son nor I wear wristwatches. Who does in 2018?
Side Note: Just before the show we got an email letting us know that the watches had hit a manufacturing delay and would not be available at the show. Instead they’re going to ship later. As a bit of compensation we received mouse pads, which is fine. As long as the watches do eventually show up.
But each of the perks helped to add up the justification for the price, so I consider them all important parts of the deal, to an extent. I think after the meet and greet the set list and the laminate were the next coolest items (yes – I know that a watch is technically much more useful than a laminate; or a set list, for that matter).
I’ve spoken at length on the Needless Things Podcast and here on the topic of dressing appropriately. If you’re getting on stage, you wear a suit. If it’s Halloween, you wear a costume. If you’re going to meet Weird Al, you wear something wacky. And fortunately, as the host of a ridiculous game show, I have a closet full of wacky. My son, however, did not, so we ordered him something appropriate for the occasion – an R2D2 Opposuit (as worn by the lovely Belligerent Monkey on the Needless Things Podcast 200th Episode Extravaganza).

As much as I didn’t particularly care about Weird Al Jeopardy – I’m not as good at trivia as I used to be and I was never that good in the first place – I wanted to participate in all of the stuff we’d paid to participate in. I was very aware of Phantom, Jr.’s ten-year-old attention span, but I felt like we’d be okay if things stretched out a bit for one night (spoiler alert – he’s a good kid and we were). So we arrived at the Tabernacle – an old church that years ago was converted into an entertainment venue – about an hour and forty-five minutes prior to showtime.
Side Note: I was exhausted. Me and Mrs. Troublemaker had stayed downtown the night before to go to the Suicide Girls Blackheart Burlesque show and have some Special Grown-Up Time. But that’s a story for a less family-friendly post.
Weird Al Jeopardy was a lot of fun to watch and the host did a great job, but my biggest takeaway was a HUGE amount of jealousy over their set. They had podiums and a huge game board and it looked amazing. If only I had a crew to transport a bunch of stuff like that to Dragon Con. I know Oz could build it.
After the game show we had about an hour to kill, which isn’t a lot when you’re 41, but is an absolute eternity when you’re 10. We went downstairs and bought a bunch of stuff, including tour shirts, action figures, and pins. Honestly I went a little nuts, but this was a big night and I wasn’t going to hold anything back. I’ll never forget going to see the Beastie Boys and Run DMC in 1987 and my dad refusing to buy me a shirt. Maybe it makes me sound shitty, but that’s bothered me forever. Don’t get me wrong – I’m well aware of the fact that I was lucky to even be there. But I wanted a tour shirt so bad and still don’t quite understand why he wouldn’t budge on that one. For more on that, listen to me and my dad talk about it on Needless Things Podcast 136.
There were a lot of VIPs. The meet and greet alone had 150 people and from what I understand there was another level of VIP that did not include the meet and greet. So even before the doors opened, the merch line was long and the place was bustling. I definitely didn’t mind the long line because we had that hour to kill.
Side Note: Everybody loved our suits. We got stopped constantly. I was honestly a little surprised there weren’t more people in elaborately wacky outfits. There were plenty of Hawaiian shirts, obviously, but to me this was a special occasion and called for a bit more.
After wandering around the Tabernacle for a while we returned to our seats to wait for the show. At 8 PM sharp a guy came out on stage to introduce Emo Phillips, who I had completely forgotten was the opening act and who was going to add an unspecified amount of time to our already late night.
Oh, yeah – I forgot to mention that this was a school night and that I also had to get up at 3:30 the next morning to go to work. I had managed to overlook the fact that the meet and greet was after the show, so best case scenario was we were home by eleven. But that was not taking an opening act into account.
Like I said – I was exhausted.
Emo Phillips is a singular talent and deserves the respect and notoriety . But Phantom, Jr. wasn’t terribly impressed and on top of that I found some of his material to be not particularly family-friendly, which surprised me. I mention this not to bag on Phillips, who is awesome, but to brag on Phantom, Jr. because he sat and was good and didn’t complain even once the whole night. He didn’t even ask me how long Emo was going to be on, which is something I would absolutely have done at his age and in that situation.
Phillips’ set was over by 8:30 and I was extremely thankful when Weird Al and his amazing band took the stage shortly thereafter rather than waiting until 9.

With little preamble, they launched into a bluesy version of Dare to Be Stupid that was an absolutely perfect way to introduce the evening. It’s one of Al’s best-known original songs, but this arrangement was entirely different. It eased the audience into the idea that this was going to be a Weird Al concert unlike any other, as you can see from the set list:

I’ll be honest – most of those songs would not have made it onto any set list I would have made. But that was the whole point of the show. It was about Al playing stuff he wanted to play and I loved every second of it.
Al, Steve Jay, and Jim West remained comfortably seated on stools for almost the entirety of the show, creating a more intimate atmosphere than standard Al shows. In between songs Al would give little backstories or anecdotes about the next song, or sometimes just tell a joke. It felt a lot like VH1 Storytellers in that way.
The highlights of the night for me were “Mr. Popeil” and “Dog Eat Dog”, two of my favorite Al originals. The former is one of the most perfect  style parodies he’s ever done – which is saying a lot – and the latter is just an amazing song that I’ve loved since I first bought Polka Party. It has even more relevance now that I’m mired in the corporate work environment.

Prior to performing “Dog Eat Dog” Al made a little joke about the popularity of Polka Party – or lack thereof – which amused me because that album is one of my sentimental favorites. It was one of the first cassettes I bought with my own money and that gave me feelings of propriety that I didn’t necessarily have for other albums I owned.
I always skip “The Night Santa Went Crazy” when it comes on because you guys know how I feel about Santa and Christmas and quite frankly the song is just too brutal for me given the subject matter. If you think that’s ridiculous, go look up the lyrics.
Anyway, Phantom, Jr. had never heard the song and was visibly dismayed by it. I had to lean over and sort of reassure him that it was just Al being ridiculous. It’s not like he thought it was a factual account or anything, but he’s certainly never heard that extreme level of parody – or violence – before. Certainly not applied to jolly ol’ Saint Nick.
A few other tunes I enjoyed hearing live were “Good Enough for Now”, “Midnight Star”, and “Why Does This Always Happen to Me?”. Everything on the set list felt like an oddity that we’d otherwise never hear, but those in particular were special to me.
The medley at the end was mind-blowing and the best possible way the main set could have closed. It opened with “Eat It” played to the tune of Eric Clapton’s “Layla” (and I could swear I’ve heard that and the opening version of “Dare to Be Stupid” before – help me out if you feel the same) and went through some of Al’s greatest parodies, all played in entirely different arrangements. What blew my mind was the realization that Weird Al was essentially doing a polka of his own songs. I mean, it wasn’t literally a polka, but still; talk about meta.

After “Like A Surgeon” the band left the stage, but barely bothered with the pretense that the show might be over. After just a couple of minutes they all returned for what I understand has been a trademark of this tour – a straightforward cover of a classic rock song. For the Atlanta audience Al belted out a tremendous version of the Stones’ “It’s Only Rock N’ Roll”. It was awesome.
Then, to close the show, the band played “The Saga Begins” which, despite anyone’s feelings about The Phantom Menace is a bona fide crowd pleaser. Everyone was singing along and it was a feel-good way to tie things up. Emotions were big and warm as the band took their bow and left the stage.
But that wasn’t the end of our night.
We proceeded upstairs to the balcony to wait for the meet and greet. By the time we sat down to wait it was 11:00 and I was quite surprised by the number of people. A former co-worker of mine named Steve happened to be there working for the company that produced the VIP event and he told me that there were 150 people. We were smack in the middle of the group.
I had some calls to make.
First I called Mrs. Troublemaker to let her know how late we were going to be. She said Phantom, Jr. could be a little tardy for school and that it wouldn’t be a huge deal. Then I called my job because there was no way I was going to be able to get up for work on four and a half hours.
In a rare bit of lucky coincidence there was someone scheduled as extra the next day, so I was able to use some paid time off at the last minute and just tell the supervisor to have that person work my shift. Normally I would have been out of luck, but clearly the good lord was looking out for me on this already magical night.
The line moved at a reasonable rate, so before too long we were standing and waiting to go through the Door to Al. As we approached the guy in charge of the VIP experience told us to have our cameras ready to take pictures and to let him know if we wanted group or individual shots.
When we got to him I said we’d be doing two – one with both of us and one with just me. He said that we’d do the one with both. I looked him dead in the eye and said that no, we’d paid for two pictures and we were getting two pictures.
To his credit, he immediately said, “Fair enough” and waved us through.
Quite frankly, though, “fair enough” doesn’t cover it. I paid a shit-ton of money for the experience and I was going to get every single thing I paid for. But I get it – the idea was to minimize the wait time for everyone there and also to keep Al from sitting at that table for six hours, because he made a point of speaking briefly with every person in the line. I don’t hold the attempted abatement of our purchased event against Al or even the VIP guy, but I certainly wasn’t going to tolerate it.
Side Note: I saw several groups of three or more all take their photos together and I was quite frankly shocked that they were allowing themselves to be taken advantage of so badly. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it or not, but the VIP experiences were expensive as a mofo.
Let’s do a little theoretical math.
Say the VIP ticket was $250. Break the photo op out of that and it’s maybe $50 of the price. I saw one group of five take their photo together – 5 x $50 = $250. That means they just gave away $200. For me, it would have meant throwing a measly $50 out the window, but I’m not so flush that I’m just going to blink away $50.
This was yet another illustration of how the average person simply doesn’t think about what they’re doing.
At the same time, I was quite pleased at how many of the people in front of us in line went along with it.
I just hope that there’s a layer of accountability protection between the VIP company and Al because that’s some class action lawsuit stuff, right there.
And now, to bring things full circle, our meeting with the one and only Weird Al Yankovic began thusly – as me and Phantom, Jr. walked up, he said, “Wait – stop! I need a minute to take this in! Wow! Those suits are amazing!”
And he literally sat back and threw his arms out and just looked at us for a minute.
“Where did you get those? Seriously – I’m going to write it down!”
At this point Al actually pulled out his own personal cell phone and opened up a note program, apologizing for taking the time to do so. While he was doing this I told him about and explained that I hosted a game show and various kinds of events and had quite a few of their suits.
As we got our (two) pictures, I told Al that my son’s first show had been one of is and thanked him for how special this night had been. He was so nice and so gracious. I didn’t say any of the things I had prepared about how big of an influence he had been or how much I loved him, but I’m sure he gets plenty of that.
Instead, I gave him fashion help, and I’m relatively sure that not many people on planet Earth can make that claim.

The guy taking the pictures apparently did not know how to use a camera phone and every picture I have is blurry, which I didn't realize until I had a chance to examine them closely later.
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