For 30 years, he's turned a novelty niche into a career, outlasting probably half of the acts he's parodied. Like his music or not, "Weird Al" Yankovic is an institution. Earlier this year, he released his 13th -- 13th! -- studio album, and as part of the media blitz, he had one of his shows, a July 2011 performance in Toronto, recorded for release. A truncated 60-minute version aired on Comedy Central, and the full 86-minute concert is now available on DVD.
The concert itself is a pretty straightforward affair: Al plays fifteen songs, plus a medley of parodies (and one gag song). Seven of the songs are from his new album, Alpocalypse, and all but four of them (plus the gag song) are from the last decade, although the medley strongly skews towards the 1980s. The show is filled with costume changes for nearly every song (for both Al and his long-time band), and many are accompanied by video clips, although for the DVD, some of the usual clips have been replaced with rights-friendly alternates, and none of the interstitial material (like Al's AL-TV segments, or his guest spots on "The Simpsons") that play while the band changes costumes during the live show are present here.
Al's physical effort during the show is clear (just check out his sweaty face during any given moment), but as a home video release, the program leaves something to be desired. Although Al's shows offer a certain brand of multimedia spectacle that's perfectly pleasing to his fans, his show is a) rehearsed and b) not the kind of massive production that a pop star like Britney Spears or a showman like Kanye West is likely to put on. Al's stage is outfitted with colored lights, a giant screen, confetti cannons, and a bubble machine -- this isn't a 100-man, moving-sets-and-lights kind of deal, and when you're talking about a setlist made up mostly of music that's being carefully mimicked, there's less of a call to capture any one specific performance for the ages. The band's aiming for consistency, not flair. He doesn't banter with the crowd, and some of his usual stage bits (like the ever-popular drum solo) aren't included for some reason.
Another wrinkle: Al already released a concert DVD back in 2000. There's no doubting that eleven years is a reasonable amount of time to pass between two live DVDs, and completists, new fans, or people who simply prefer his new work to "Running With Scissors" (the album he was promoting then) might be pleased, but anyone who owns or has seen that disc will have little reason to get this one too, as the overall experience is largely the same. Five of the songs on that disc are even present here, complete with the same costume changes.
It's complicated. I like Weird Al, and I like his concerts, but if the purpose of a concert DVD is to capture a unique moment in time, they'd probably be better off recording another artist. It's not the DVD itself, the performance recorded on it, or the quality of the songs; it's just that the format and the type of show in question aren't the best fit. If you're a fan, and he plays in your area, go see him -- it'll be fun, you'll get your money's worth, and best of all: it'll actually be live.
I can't say I like the caricature of Al on the front cover of the DVD, but the flaming audience member holding a beach ball is pretty funny, so I'll give it a pass. The back cover is nicely arranged, with a setlist and some photos of Al's costumes, and the whole thing is packed into a white eco-case (the kind with holes in it), with no additional inserts.
The Video and Audio
"Weird Al" Yankovic Live!: The Alpocalypse Tour is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and upon close inspection, it has the expected problems: mosquito noise and artifacting as the digital photography struggles to capture the dark corners of the concert hall. On the other hand, color is quite vivid and detail is great in close-ups; sitting a normal distance away from your TV, I doubt any of the visual constraints will be noticeable. Of course, what matters most on a concert DVD is the audio, and the disc comes with a robust Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio track that effectively replicates the crowd experience. Most of the actual audience comes through the back speakers, with room for a bit of echo and concert-hall acoustics, while Al is crisp and clear through the front center channel, with the band off to the left and right. Sadly, no subtitles are provided -- if you want to know the lyrics, this disc can't help you any.
Three additional songs are included: "Frank's 2000" TV" -- including the missing drum solo, "You Don't Love Me Anymore" and "You Make Me" (4:45, 6:01, 3:09, with a 13:55 "play all" option) -- all with crowd interaction and even some physical gags, all funny, and all likely all cut because they aren't parodies or recent. Oh, well, at least they're on the DVD. These are followed by the music videos for "Perform This Way" (2:55) and "Polka Face" (4:46). I like the video for "PTW", but I can't entirely argue with anyone who says his animated videos are hit-and-miss. Save for three segments ("Womanizer", "Believe", "Replay", with a potential exception for Plympton's segment just because he's a respected animator), the video for "Polka Face" looks like it was tossed off in a day by a team of crummy Flash animators and MAD Magazine caricature artists, who all of whom really skimped on backgrounds. It's fine to go animated, Al, but please, adopt more stringent quality standards.
Beyond the music, eight of Al's YouTube videos are included (3:35) -- funny, but short, and fans will have probably already seen them. The disc is rounded out by four videos called Other Junk (10:48), also from the internet -- one from CollegeHumor, two from AOL, and one from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. And yes, I did check if the music videos had any alternate audio tracks...no dice.
When the artist in question puts on a ridiculously expensive spectacle that won't ever be repeated, or riffs on their own music in a way that makes each show unique, the appeal of a live DVD is clearer. The quality of the live show on this disc is just fine, in terms of both the performance and A/V quality, but it lacks that spark that one gets watching Al actually play right in front of you, and that's the entire charm of his particular brand of live show. All in all, anyone other than hardcore fans and completists can consider this as a rental, and save the rest of their money until they can see the real deal.