Fans who went to Weird Al Yankovic’s last concert in San Luis Obispo might have been taken off guard by his straight cover of Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio.”
This was Weird Al, after all — the guy who does all the funny parodies: “Eat It” instead of “Beat It,” “White & Nerdy” as opposed to “Ridin’ Dirty.”
So there had to be some deep, insightful reason why he performed a faithful version of “Radio Radio,” right?
“Oh, that must mean something went horribly wrong with the show,” Yankovic confessed last week. “Because that’s sort of our emergency when everything completely falls apart. I think maybe the last time we played San Luis, we still had our old computer server, which was always crashing on us. So I guarantee that’s what happened.”
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OK, so maybe we should have expected a guy named Weird Al would remain faithful to his image. But it’s that lack of gravity that has drawn crowds to Yankovic’s shows for more than 25 years, and it’s the reason his career has outlasted many of the acts he has parodied.
Coinciding with the release of his latest album, “Apocalypse,” Yankovic returns to the Central Coast tonight, when he performs at the Chumash Casino.
Yankovic’s familiarity with the Central Coast, of course, stems from his days as a Cal Poly student, where he studied architecture and drew inspiration from art house rock.
“I was listening to a lot of bands like The Talking Heads and The B-52s, and Oingo Boingo and Devo and things like that,” he said. “I liked it because it was odd and quirky and left of center. And it seemed to have a little sense of humor, so I decided that was my kind of music.”
While a school guidance counselor had dissuaded Yankovic from pursuing his real dream — working for Mad Magazine — Yankovic knew that architecture, his major at Cal Poly, wasn’t really his future either. So he worked at KCPR on campus and pursued his other passion—writing novelty and parody songs. A skilled accordion player since he was a child, it was at Cal Poly that he recorded his first big parody, “My Bologna,” a take on The Knack’s “My Sharona,” and sent it to Dr. Demento, the radio personality who gave Yankovic his first break in 1979.
A couple of years after graduating from Cal Poly, Yankovic had a record deal. And by the 1980s he was a household name, thanks largely to “Eat It,” his spoof of Michael Jackson’s blockbuster hit “Beat It.”
Yankovic’s Chumash performance will take place in Santa Ynez, the home of Jackson’s famous Neverland Ranch.
“I was invited once, but I
wasn’t able to make it,” Yankovic said. “So, no, I’ve never actually visited there.”
While Jackson’s sudden death shocked the world two years ago, Yankovic continued to play “Eat It” and “Fat” — a parody of Jackson’s “Bad” — in concert.
“We just kept playing it like we always played it,” he said. “We felt like there was nothing wrong with it because Michael Jackson, obviously, was always a big fan of the parodies and didn’t have a problem with that. And I look at the parodies as a celebration of his music.”
Even though he can legally do parodies without permission, Yankovic does always get permission from the artists before recording. His new album features parodies of songs by Lady Gaga (who recently said being parodied by Yankovic was a rite of passage), Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift.
And, as always, the new album has some original compositions as well, including “Craigslist,” “Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me” and “CNR,” a song about ’70s game show contestant Charles Nelson Reilly.
“I love the parodies, certainly,” Yankovic said. “But when I do an original song, it’s 100 percent my own composition. So I take a little more pride in that.”
While younger fans probably aren’t familiar with Charles Nelson Reilly, they will recognize The White Stripes style he uses in that song. It’s that ability to stay current that explains how a song like “White&Nerdy” can get 100 million views on YouTube and how Yankovic can garner more than 2 million Twitter followers.
Still, his live shows, featuring numerous costume changes and humorous videos, include songs appealing to both younger and older fans.
During his 2007 show at Cal Poly, the audience was noticeably mixed, with middle schoolers sitting among middle agers. And even if the middle-aged fans didn’t know Yankovic was doing a parody of Eminem or Avril Lavigne, the performances were still funny. Even the “Radio Radio” cover—despite miffing many in the audience— was well-received.
“Hopefully, that won’t be happening on this tour,” Yankovic said. “We’ve got a much more reliable server at this point.”