In Advance of His July 6 Show at the State Theatre, Weird Al Talks About Touring with a String Section

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ROBYN VON SWANK
  • Robyn von Swank
Weird Al Yankovic has said that he never imagined that his career would take off the way it has.

In the beginning, he started performing on Thursday nights at his college coffeehouse. Students would go and sit and have a coffee and watch local artists and students perform. Nine times out of ten, some guy would play an acoustic guitar and sing a Dan Fogelberg song.



Then, Yankovic would come up with his accordion and sing what he refers to as “some goofy song in a strangled voice and freak everyone out.” It would always get a huge reaction because it was just so different. That’s when Yankovic got his first love of performing and realized he could make people laugh.

By the time he graduated from college, he thought he could maybe become a performer.



Initially, Yankovic released “My Bologna,” a sendup of the Knack tune “My Sharona.” That was the first of many Weird Al songs to become hits on a novelty radio program hosted by Dr. Demento. The track became No. 1 for several weeks on Demento's Funny Five. The guys in the Knack even heard the song and liked it. Yankovic had recorded in the bathroom across the hall from his college campus radio station.

From point on, Weird Al set his sights on pop’s biggest tunes. Throughout the ’80s, he was a staple on MTV as he parodied pop stars such as Michael Jackson. When grunge hit in the ’90s, Yankovic was there to poke fun at Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and when hip-hop became huge, he delivered “White & Nerdy,” a sendup of "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone.

His latest endeavor, the Strings Attached North American tour, finds him performing for the first time ever with a full orchestra.

The tour comes on the heels of his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour that featured "an intimate, scaled-down show" that showcased a rotating setlist of semi-obscure deep-cut non-parody album tracks, many of which he and his band had never performed live before. That tour included a sold-out show at Playhouse Square.

For the Strings Attached tour, Yankovic will return to playing the hits and classics. He'll have background singers and an entire symphony orchestra in tow. It arrives at the State Theatre on Saturday, July 6.

We recently emailed Yankovic five questions. Here are his responses.

You’re back to playing the hits and classics for your current tour. Talk about what prompted the decision to take that approach.
It’s basically just me trying to give the people what they want. Last year, we did the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, which eschewed my standard “hits” for the more obscure deep-cuts in my catalog. That tour catered more to the hard-core fans who normally wouldn’t ever get a chance to hear those songs live. So I felt like I needed to follow that up with a tour that would appeal to a much broader subset of humanity - ergo the hits are back.

Talk about what the production will be like, and, if possible, give an example of what we can expect from one particular number.
This is our biggest extravaganza ever. On top of the usual costumes, props and video screens, my band will be backed by three background singers and a 41-piece symphony orchestra. And when we do “The Saga Begins,” we’re also joined on stage by members of the 501st Legion who are dancing in full Star Wars regalia. It’s as over-the-top as I’ll ever get — I don’t think I’ll be able to beat this particular tour.

What will it be like to play with the backing of a full symphony orchestra?
It’s pretty stinking majestic. I played with the Hollywood Bowl orchestra a couple years ago, and that’s largely what inspired this tour. It just makes every song feel so huge. And looking at the big picture, it just amuses me because you wouldn’t normally expect a Weird Al concert to have so much emotional gravitas.

You released “The Hamilton Polka” last year. What made you think songs from Hamilton could be sung to a polka beat?
Anything can be sung to a polka beat — and it’s usually an improvement! Actually, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a friend of mine, and he asked me to do the Hamilton polka medley for one of his digital “Hamildrops.” I’m a huge Hamilton fan, and a project like that is obviously right in my wheelhouse, so of course I jumped at the chance! I’m told “The Hamilton Polka” became the first polka song ever on the Billboard Digital Sales chart.

Your career now stretches back decades. What keeps you motivated to tour and record after all these years?
It’s fun. It’s the most fun job I could possibly imagine. I mean, it’s really hard work at times, but I honestly can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.

Weird Al Yankovic, 8 p.m. Saturday, July 6, State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. Tickets: $35-$89.50, playhousesquare.com.

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