It Pays To Be Weird 

Al, that is

March 8 will be a gala night for aficionados of High Weirdness and the rock 'n' roll accordion.

"Weird Al" Yankovic and his long-time band will be at City Auditorium to lead fans through two frenzied hours of comedy rock 'n' roll, "Yoda chanting" and unmitigated irreverence veering between the surreal and the silly.

Musically and otherwise, Yankovic is an acquired taste, but he knows his audience. If you like to wear a sombrero with Day-Glo surfer shorts and a cape, a Weird Al appearance is your chance to shine among fellow travelers.

A Yankovic concert is audience-participation rock 'n' roll theater featuring nonstop comedic banter, scathingly clever parodies, film clips (a segment on proper dental hygiene, for one), and frequent costume changes: yellow plastic radiation suits with swim goggles and glow-in-the-dark snorkels give way to grunge rocker and enormous black potato outfits. Keyboardist Ruben Valtierra is reputed to wear "a mean cone bra."

Weird Al's band -- Steve Jay, John "Bermuda" Schwartz, Ruben Valtierra and Jim West -- has been with Yankovic most of his career, and together they can really rock when they bear down.

A peak moment of every concert is the 20-minute "Polka Power" medley that strings together polka-ized versions of songs from the Spice Girls, Harvey Danger, Pars Michel, Backstreet Boys, Smash Mouth, Beastie Boys, Chumbawamba, Madonna, Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind, Marilyn Manson, Hanson, Macy Playground and Semisonic.

Over the phone, Al sounds eminently normal. He cheerfully admits to being "kind of weird" while growing up, but more in the "peculiar" than the "ha-ha" vein.

"I was less the class cutup than the straight-A nerd who got picked on a lot," he said.

He took up the accordion at age seven because his parents were fans of Frank "Polka King" Yankovic (no blood relation), and he stuck with it as a teenager because "it was something to put me apart from everybody else. I guess it guaranteed that I wouldn't turn out completely normal."

He spent a lot of solitary time in his bedroom playing his accordion to radio rock 'n' roll. It sounded good to him, but his friends howled. It's tough to do Led Zeppelin on an instrument meant for French bistros, Italian weddings and Sons of Poland beer-and-brat bashes.

"If you take the accordion seriously," said Al, "you end up playing 'Lady of Spain' at Knights of Columbus parties, so the logical next step was parody." Yankovic was a huge fan of Dr. Demento, whose radio show featured the silly and offbeat. He began making "these utterly horrible tapes of terrible songs" he played solo in his bedroom, and sent them to Demento.

"I wasn't making them terrible on purpose, though," he said, "and I guess that was their charm. To my amazement, Dr. Demento began playing the tapes on his show. It was unbelievable to be a 14-year-old kid, hearing your songs played on the radio."

After high school, Yankovic took his straight-A average to California Polytechnic, where he studied architecture and joined the staff of the campus radio station. It was in the "acoustically perfect" men's bathroom just down the hall from the campus radio booth that he recorded one of his biggest hits, "My Bologna" (a send-up of the Knack's "My Sharona").

That song wouldn't hit big until years later, though, and Yankovic found himself lost and adrift after graduation.

"It was kind of scary," he said of that period in life. "I'd just spent four years preparing myself for a career I was no longer interested in. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I applied for work as a janitor, at the phone company -- anywhere that would pay the rent and buy the macaroni and cheese. I worked in a mail room for three years."

He continued making those tapes, though, and finally garnered a contract with the Scotti Brother label at age 24. He quit his "day job" when his 1983 debut album, Weird Al Yankovic, hit the Billboard charts.

It's paid handsomely to be weird ever since.

His eleven albums have garnered him two Grammy Awards (and eight nominations), and he wrote and starred in the film UHF (universally panned). His video, "Smells Like Nirvana" (a spoof of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit") was included by Rolling Stone in its all-time top 100 videos list.

Bad Hair Day, his best-selling album to date, reached 14 on the Billboard charts and sold two million copies. He can afford lots of macaroni and cheese now.

Yankovic says the butts of his satire "almost always" take it with grace and humor, and he always asks their permission first. "I want them to understand that my put-ons are tributes, not put-downs," he said.

He recently ditched his patented glasses and mustache following eye-corrective laser surgery. " I thought for a while of wearing fake glasses," he said, "but I decided I should be able to change my look every couple decades."

His current tour is in promotion of his latest CD, Running With Scissors.

Al has no plans to relinquish his title as the king of the rock 'n' roll accordion. He still savors "the theater of high-energy audience interaction with everyone from elderly Japanese ladies to 12-year-old kids and overworked adults who wish they could party for a living, like me."

Yankovic reports his March 8 show (his sole Colorado appearance) will feature cuts from Running like "It's All About the Pentiums" (a spoof of Puff Daddy's "It's All About the Benjamins"), "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi" (a spoof of "Pretty Fly for a White Guy"), and the definitively weird "Albuquerque." Long-time fans can also expect some of the old standards like "My Bologna," "Eat It," "Another One Rides the Bus," "Amish Paradise" and the anti-New Age anthem, "I'll Be Mellow When I'm Dead."


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