Concert Review: “Weird Al Yankovic’s “Return of Mandatory Fun Tour”

Weird Al Yankovic
Date: August 8th, 2016
Venue: Starlight Theater

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

If there was ever music icon that demanded your undivided attention at a concert, it is Weird Al Yankovic. His performance is a full-sensory experience. Obviously it’s a visual and audible treat for those who show up in tin foil hats, polka pants, Amish attire, or whatever reference they can make to the musician’s 40-year career. But Weird Al incorporates more theatrics into one show than most bands do throughout an entire tour.

The concert begins via jumbotron, displaying crusty black and white propaganda video repeating the phrase, “Mandatory Fun”, the title of Weird Al’s last album. We then cut to Weird Al’s his tour bus where he appears singing “Tacky”. Shoving show extras out of his way and teasing the audience with what’s to come as he enters the Starlight seating area, he comically drifts to the stage through elaborate cheesy dance moves. It doesn’t take the comedy king of polka to bust out the accordion or the new songs that helped him land at #1 on the Billboard Top 40 last year.

Because each song parodies a song or specific style of a band, this is a concert requiring a costume change in between nearly every song during the two-hour show. In between songs like “Fat”, “White and Nerdy” and “Foil” are pieced together video clips highlighting the pop-culture relevance of Weird Al. Everything from his appearance in the “Naked Gun” movies to his vocal talents being utilized on contemporary cartoon favorites like “My Little Pony”. For fans old and new, the clips are a relentless sampling of his lengthy relevance and influence in society.

The seemingly one man show is joined on stage by his bandmates, who match his intensity, comedic timing and quirks. The madcap nature of Weird Al is matched by everyone, even the stage hands who have to awkwardly stand and hold a harmonica during “Ode to a Superhero” or the intentionally unenthusiastic cheerleaders during “Smells Like Nirvana”. The dedication to the surreal nature of it all reaches its peak during the encore. During “Yoda” the band stops playing their instruments and becomes a choir of cartoon sound effects and madcap a capella.

Every song played that night was a unique and unforgettable memory for fans, even the moments of parody medley. Weird Al spends a solid 15 minutes cramming in 10 shorted songs to better cram in his lengthy catalogue of memorable parodies to please every concertgoer. There are even a handful of songs that can be viewed as interactive, on the audiences end and Weird Al’s end. My review could have easily been a recap of every wonderfully joyous moment experienced in each song.

Having seen him live 15 years ago, it’s impressive to see the same energy, if not more. There are signs of age in that jester smile and silly grimace that he flashes, possibly worrying fans that he may be nearing the end of his rich career. I highly doubt the man who truly loves entertaining the nerdy masses is going to retire anytime soon. But on the off-chance he’s getting closer to hanging up the accordion, do yourself a favor and see him now, and often.

Set List:
Tacky
2.) Lame Claim to Fame
3.) Now That’s What I Call Polka!
4.) Perform This Way
5.) Dare to Be Stupid
6.) Fat
7.) First World Problems
8.) Foil
9.) Smells Like Nirvana
10.) Party in the CIA/ It’s All About the Pentiums/ Handy/ Bedrock Anthem/ Another One Rides the Bus/ Ode to a Superhero/ Gump/ Inactive/ eBay
11.) Canadian Idiot
12.) Wanna B Ur Lovr
13.) Eat It/ I Lost on Jeopardy/ I Love Rocky Road/ Like a Surgeon (Acoustic)
14.) White and Nerdy
15.) Word Crimes
16.) Amish Paradise
ENCORE
17.) We All Have Cellphones
18.) The Saga Begins
19.) Yoda

Al Sapienza talks about roles in “Taken 3” and “Godzilla”

You may not know Al Sapienza by name but you surely know his face. Probably best known as Mikey Palmice on “The Sopranos,” Sapienza has appeared in over 200 films and television programs. On the big screen he’s been seen in films like “Pretty Woman,” “Free Willy 2” and “Lethal Weapon 4” while on television he’s co-starred on such programs as “Law and Order,” “NYPD Blue” and “Blue Bloods.” He has also appeared in both the 1998 and 2014 versions of “Godzilla” This week Mr. Sapienza can be seen alongside Liam Neeson in “Taken 3.” To help promote this appearance Mr. Sapienza took time out to talk to me about what he does and why he does it.

Al Sapienza: Where are you calling from?
Mike Smith: Kansas City.
AS: Kansas City? I love Kansas City. I played the Uptown Theater there. I had some great times in Kansas City.

MS: You wouldn’t want to be here today…it’s three below zero! So what attracted you to do “Taken 3?”
AS: I’m one of those actors who loves to work. I love to work. And I don’t look at work as “work.” I honestly don’t. When I’m working I’m not working. I’m working when I’m not working! It’s fun being creative…being around creative people. Even though I’ve been an actor for 30 years I’m also a fan. I love it. I love movies…I love TV…I love the theater. Before I went on the audition I watched the original “Taken.” To be honest I hadn’t seen it but since I had the audition for “Taken 3” I watched it and I really liked it. Then I watched “Taken 2.” I’m a tremendous fan of Liam Neeson. I think he’s incredible in everything he does. He throws himself into every part he does. And now I finally have the chance to work with him. And it turns out that he’s just a real regular and good guy. Plus it’s a big movie…it’s a big franchise with a big following.

MS: You’ve appeared in other sequels. Is it difficult going into a project like that…one that might have an already established cast and crew?
AS: It’s funny. It’s all the same. If you’re acting correctly…if your just totally in the moment…if you’ve created this fake reality in your imagination and in your mind and just be real yourself…on the acting standpoint it doesn’t matter if it’s a sequel or a one shot deal. You shoot to do a great job all the time. And to me, that’s what is cool about acting!

MS: You’ve done a lot of both film and television. Do you have a preference?
AS: Good question. The only difference to me is that it’s a longer process on a film. You have more time to be creative…they have more time to shoot. Sometimes for a movie that’s an hour and a half you shoot for seven weeks where on a television show that’s an hour long you shoot for eight days. TV really gets your adrenaline going…it really makes you feel good about yourself. When you get to the set and six in the morning you better know your lines…and everybody else’s lines. TV is really more demanding, because you have to be ready to just knock it out where on a film you have more time. What I’m really excited about is cable television. I think that the movies are moving towards being corporate franchises…Batman, Spider-man, Transformers. They keep trying to do this multi-million dollar franchises with all of the marketing and promotions. I think cable television is going to continue to be cutting edge.

MS: Speaking of multi-million dollar movies, you have the rare distinction of having appeared in both 1998’s “Godzilla” as well as this past year’s version. Do you have a favorite?
AS: That’s a tough one. The director of this past “Godzilla” (Gareth Edwards) had done a great film called “Monsters.” He did it on an incredibly small budget, doing all of the special effects himself on his laptop. I really enjoyed working with him, he was such a special guy. I also enjoyed the earlier one, working with Roland Emerich and Dean Devlin. But I think I enjoy Gareth’s film better because I think he tried to be more like the old, classic films…more about science and science fiction.

MS: Normally I’d ask what your next project would be, but if the Internet Movie Data Base is to be believed you have no less than 22 projects between now and next year. So I guess I’ll ask what you do in your spare time?
AS: (laughs) Spare time? I’m an actor, I don’t need spare time. I like to play football on Saturday mornings. There is a long running game played in New York that has been going on since 1964. They play every week, be it snow or rain. As for what is next, I’m very excited about a mini-series running now called “Ascension,” which will be shown on the SyFy Channel. It’s a very, very interesting show with a very, very interesting concept. That’s what I’m really excited about at the moment.

CD Review: “Weird Al” Yankovic “Mandatory Fun”

“Weird Al” Yankovic
“Mandatory Fun”
RCA
Produced By: “Weird Al” Yankovic
Tracks: 12

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

“Mandatory Fun” not only marks Weird Al’s 14th music album, but it also marks 35 years since his first single, “My Bologna”. I’m not even 35 years old, yet I owe so much to my current nerdom to the polka comedy master. Ever since that memorable day for me when I first heard Weird Al through the car speakers, and even since his take on “My Sharona”, Weird Al has remained a goofy class act when it comes to his art and “Mandatory Fun” solidifies that fact. In this ADHD Internet age, he remains topical and funny.

Weird Al’s finger on the pulse of pop culture must be way better than mine since I immediately consulted Wikipedia on the first track. I had no idea who Iggy Azalea is, but luckily Weird Al did on the opening track, “Handy”. It isn’t the most fertile ground for comedy, a home repair man rapping his various skills, but his injection of other popular music lines and aged cultural references shows his sharp mind is still a walking encyclopedia of television, movies, and music in the U.S.

While “Handy” is a fantastic take on “Fancy”, the best parody on this album is “Word Crimes”, a play on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”. It’s not only a perfect example of Weird Al’s brilliant wordplay, but feels like a funky “Schoolhouse Rock” song that could teach children a thing or two about the difference between who and whom, and other common grammatical headaches. Only Weird Al could take the much criticized “Blurred Lines” and create a song poking fun at the continual deterioration of writing skills.

While Weird Al may be well more known for parodies, he finds more success on this album with his musical style parodies, particularly a Pixie-esque song called “First World Problems”. It’s a perfect lampoon of spoiled rich people and possibly the first song he’s meshed with an Internet meme. He also stays true to his roots by consistently remaining silly throughout “My Own Eyes”, which beautifully captures the Foo Fighters style. Take out the vocals and you’d probably mistake it for another catchy rock anthem by Dave Grohl and gang. He finds success on other tracks encapsulating Crosby, Stills and Nash as well as Cat Stevens.

In an age where Youtube parodies are rattled off almost immediately after an artist’s work starts charting the Billboards, some may question the relevancy of Weird Al. But most viral videos come off as structurally weak or intentionally sinister while Weird Al seems to embrace the culture he’s satirizing. He also creates a completely unique and original feel despite imitating the footing of other musicians. He’s had a knack for targeting that sweet spot when a song begins to develop a disdain in the general population after it’s been left on repeat at every top 40 radio station in America. That’s flawlessly seen in “Tacky”, a riff on “Happy”.

Genuine artistry is seen throughout Weird Al’s latest album and it’s amazing that he’s further planted his humorous seeds into our culture. The title, “Mandatory Fun”, is a self-fulfilling prophecy once you’ve given the album a listen. While some may question his relevancy, I simply look at the explosion of coverage around his album and see that he’s become further ingrained into nearly every indie, nerd and mainstream facet of music. Question his growing legacy all you want, but his latest work has the lasting impact that “Eat It” and “Amish Paradise” have.

Track List:

1.”Handy” – “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX
2.”Lame Claim to Fame” – Style parody of Southern Culture on the Skids
3.”Foil” – “Royals” by Lorde
4.”Sports Song” – Style parody of college football fight songs
5.”Word Crimes” – “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams
6.”My Own Eyes” – Style parody of Foo Fighters
7.”NOW That’s What I Call Polka!”
– “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus
– “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People
– “Best Song Ever” by One Direction
– “Gangnam Style” by Psy
– “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen
– “Scream & Shout” by will.i.am featuring Britney Spears
– “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra
– “Timber” by Pitbull featuring Kesha
– “Sexy And I Know It” by LMFAO
– “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz
– “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams
8.”Mission Statement” – Style parody of Crosby, Stills & Nash
9.”Inactive” – “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons
10.”First World Problems” – Style parody of Pixies
11.”Tacky” – “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
12. “Jackson Park Express” – Style parody of Cat Stevens

Book Review “Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen”

Author: Al Jourgensen
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

“Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen” is the first book from off the wall front man Al Jourgensen. Throughout the books 336 pages Al and company take you on a roller coaster ride of sex, drugs, drugs and even more drugs mixed with a sprinkling of rock and roll. Jourgensen the front man for the legendary industrial act Ministry delves into the most intimate crevices of his mind to recount everything from his life growing up in Chicago to the trials and tribulation of the music business.

Casual readers take warning as this is not your typical tell all memoir as Al Jourgensen gives you that and then some. From drugged out nights with band members past and present to near death experiences “Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen” was a book that I couldn’t put down. The book consisted of stories that were so far out there that they had to be true due to the fact that it would be hard for someone to make up some of these experiences and, be able tell them with the in-depth conviction Jourgensen does. The book keeps you on the edge of your seat and makes you want more.

As you read through the pages you never know who you’re going to run into as it seems as though Al has worked with or been associated with just about everyone. From Rick Neilson of Cheap Trick who collaborated with Al on his Buck Satan album to hanging out and steeling drugs with the late Kurt Cobain there all here. Though I wasn’t a big fan of some of the segues which included stories about Al from the stand point of others the book was still an interesting read packed with great photos and amusing antidotes that at several points made me take a step back and just say “WOW”.

Interview with The Simpsons’ Al Jean

Al Jean is known best for his role of Writer, Executive Producer and Show Runner of “The Simpsons”. The show is currently in its record breaking 23rd season and celebrating its 500th episode on February 19th, 2012. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Al about his job with “The Simpsons” and what we can expect from it’s future.

Mike Gencarelli: You wear many hats on “The Simpsons”, how do you juggle them all including executive producer and show runner?
Al Jean: I came up as a writer, so the most important thing for me is being head writer. There all these other aspects of it that I feel take away from main job of writing. Not that working on budgets and boards aren’t important but I have just always felt that way.

MG: How do you feel that the show still holds up and is relevant this long after 500 episodes?
AJ: It’s crazy since nothing in television lasts this long. The fact that we still get to do these stories that we think are interesting and relevant is a tribute to the way the show is created. The cast all works really hard.

MG: The 500th episode airs on Feb.19th, tell us about what we can expect from the episode and what cameo voices?
AJ: Julian Assange will be voicing himself in a cameo. We have also enlisted another hard to find person for a brief appearance as well. The basic premise of the episode is that the Simpsons find out they are being kicked out of town for the things they have done over the years.

MG: How can you reflect on the recent Guinness World Record breaking Simpsons Ultimate Fan Marathon?
AJ: I was actually there for that. I think they could have gone longer but cooler heads prevailed. I am glad no one went crazy and started shooting people. (Laughs) Of course congratulations to the two men last standing.

MG: What else can we expect from the rest of this season?
AJ: We have guest stars such as Brian Cranston, Steve Carell, Zooey Deschanel, and Lady Gaga set to appear this season. Lady Gaga is actually playing herself while the others are playing characters. We also have a Halloween show based around the Mayan prophecy of 2012. This year is going to be really exciting.

MG: When you started out with this show many years ago, did you ever think you would see this landmark?
AJ: No. If I had said that you would have put me in an institution. I would have been ecstatic if you had said 50 at the beginning. Matt (Groening) thought it was going to be a hit but I don’t think anyone else thought it would reach this point.

MG: How do you think that creating the shows now differs from when you started?
AJ: Things have changed very little. At the beginning there was incredible attention being paid to it but you know that won’t last. It has been replaced by this feeling of acceptance and that it is part of people’s lives. It’s a wonderful thing.

MG: Is there ever any hopes for a sequel to “The Simpsons Movie”?
AJ: Yes there is hope. We aren’t working on it now because it is very draining to work on the movie and the television series at the same time. I think we would all be better off if we waited until the show ended before we start another movie…but who knows when that will be.

MG: The show will continue another two seasons until season 25, what do you foresee for the future?
AJ: We are going to episode 559 for sure. It will depend on the economics at that point. We had to decrease our budget to get these extra two seasons. There may be another reduction as television is not as profitable as it once was. I wouldn’t count the show out though.