After over a dozen tours the same way, “Weird Al” Yankovic felt he had to change it up.
Last year, it was with the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, a stripped-down production featuring a set list of rare and original songs rather than the hit parodies he’s known for. This year, he’s decided to go big: he’s playing in front of a live orchestra in the “biggest tour I’ve ever done and will likely do,” says the 59-year-old singer.
The idea came from a two-night set in Los Angeles. He was invited to play with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra at the famed outdoor amphitheatre.
“It was such an incredible feeling to be on stage and having all those people behind me making stupid songs sound kind of majestic,” he says. “I thought, this was great, I wonder if we can put together a whole tour like this?”
They managed to pull off the logistical challenge this year with the String Attached tour, which puts Weird Al and his four-piece band in front of orchestras across North America this summer, stopping in Calgary at the Jack Singer Concert Hall for two shows on Aug. 24.
“That’s the challenge now: I’ve been doing the same kind of show for many years,” he says. “Now I’m thinking of fun and different ways to present my songs to people that are a little different, mixing it up each time out.”
For this tour, that means some additions to the set list from the back catalogue: a few surprise deep cuts the band hasn’t played on stage before and Jurassic Park, a top-five hit in Canada that has been off the set list for a while.
“We haven’t done it in the show for a long time because that song in particular benefits from a full orchestra because it’s a parody of McArthur Park,” Yankovic says. “Now that we have an orchestra, it seems like a natural fit because it sounds so great and so full.”
Yankovic has also made some subtractions from the set list for non-sonic reasons. They won’t be playing Fat or Eat It, two of his biggest hits, parodies of Michael Jackson’s Bad and Beat It, respectively.
“Michael Jackson is more controversial this year than he ever has been before largely because of those documentaries,” Yankovic says. “I felt if I was going to leave him out of the set, this might be a good time because I don’t want to upset anybody. They may or may not come back at some point in the future, I don’t know. I just thought looking at the zeitgeist currently, it felt like — you know, it was a pared down set list as it is — maybe that’s a good call.”
Yankovic hasn’t released a record since 2014’s Mandatory Fun, which was his 14th studio album and closed a record deal that he initially signed in 1982. At the time, the contract had called for 10 albums.
“Even then, that was pretty draconian,” he says. “I don’t think anybody even assumed I’d have 10 albums at that point because I was a silly little novelty artist. That was kind of ridiculous at the time. What was even more ridiculous was when I renegotiated my contract, they tacked two more albums on top of that. And then we did the same thing a few years later, renegotiated my contract yet again and tacked two more albums on. That became a 14-album contract.”
After the release of Mandatory Fun, his label wanted to re-sign him to a “substantial deal” that was “tough to turn down,” but Yankovic decided he didn’t want to be on a long-term deal.
“It felt good to fulfill that and not feel like I owed anybody anything,” he says.
If no one expected 10 albums, there was no way anyone expected Yankovic fronting a tour of orchestras. But his fans continue to come in droves regardless of the show format — the evening show in Calgary is sold out. After taking a break from touring next year, Yankovic hasn’t put too much thought into how he’ll mix it up again for his 2021 tour.
“If you have any ideas let me know,” he says.
“Weird Al” Yankovic plays two shows at Jack Singer Concert Hall on Aug. 24 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets, $62.50 to $362, are still available for the matinee performance at artscommons.ca.