There are three things every concert needs, and these three things will make the difference between a disappointing event and an amazing evening.
One, of course, is an audience. A concert without an audience is just a sad musician with a microphone. And an audience is something that no one has any control over. So it is the remaining two items that I will dedicate the majority of this post to.
First I want to touch on venue. Location can make or break an event. Whether you are stepping into the basement concert space of Mahall’s Twenty Lanes or the classical wonder that is Severance Hall, the venue creates a tone before any instrument does.
The Evans Amphitheater in Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park is a wonderful space. I find this to be because of the eclectic atmosphere.
Celebrating 75 years of operation, the Amphitheater gives off the impression of a secret location that you and approximately 1,500 of your friends stumbled upon. Walking by the beautiful, old brick construction and peering back to a Roman-inspired colonnade, one feels like their ticket was passed to them by the friend of a friend who says that, while they don’t know exactly what is going down that night, they are certain it will be epic.
As I took my assigned seat under the very comforting roofed section of the theater, part of me envied the happy group of people who had spread out on blankets and lawn chairs on the grass and cracked open their coolers. The brisk air blew through the seats, rustling the vines that crept up the brick and threatened to overtake the lighting crew perched in their catwalks.
An “anything can happen” vibe, somehow perfectly reined in by the helpful Cain Park crew guiding people to their individual spots, emanated from the old red bricks towering before us.
The tone had been set by Evans Amphitheater.
The final piece to the concert puzzle is the performer. No matter how much you love a musician, there are concerts that don’t live up to the hype. Maybe the performer gets swallowed by the venue, ignores the desires of their fans, or just phones it in.
Going into last week’s “Weird Al” Yankovic concert, I wanted the crazy wonder and energy that I had enjoyed in his music ever since I was a kid. It was a tall order, filled with nostalgia and childhood idealism.
And boy, did he deliver.
Al has the ability to simultaneously bring to the forefront of your mind decades of music you’d thought was forgotten, while completely vanishing two brand new hours. I’d thought his show had an intermission which would break up the 120 minutes printed on my ticket. As Al played his final song (before the encore) I almost looked to my phone, thinking that intermission had come too quickly.
“Weird Al” Yankovic defined my childhood. Legend says that Dare To Be Stupid was the first CD purchased for the Hicken Family’s brand new CD-playing stereo system. And I know for a fact that Bad Hair Day was the first compact disc ever bought with my own money.
Through Al’s songs and medleys I was introduced to music I had no idea even existed. I listened ad infinitum to “Weird Al” albums through high school and into the first year of college, when my purchases suddenly ceased.
Al’s concert proved to me that whatever I’d spent that money on, since it hadn’t gone towards “Weird Al” Yankovic albums it had been grossly misplaced. While at points I was happily singing along to I Want A New Duck and Amish Paradise, at other times I was thinking to myself how sad it was that I was only now hearing the brilliance that was Party In The CIA. I have a lot of catching up to do.
I must stress the fact that one reason this was easily the best concert I have ever been to – and I have been to some great concerts – was that Al and his band pull out all the stops, regardless of their personal comfort.
Do you remember that music video where Al is dressed up in a full fat suit and make-up? Oh yeah, he performs in that. Speaking of performing, his Lady Gaga parody has him dancing around the stage in a giant peacock outfit. Most singers would be happy to let the song conjure up the audience’s memories of iconic images from album covers or videos. “Weird Al” is dedicated to bringing that memory to life for you. And it is greatly appreciated.
Covering for all of these costume changes is a multimedia smorgasbord of all things “Weird Al.”
Want the chance to see almost every “Weird Al” pop culture reference? It’s been collected for you.
Want to go line for line with the audience as you relive the hilarious “Wheel of Fish” segment from the under-appreciated “Weird Al” film UHF? It’s there.
Did you not know there are a series of 5 Second Weird Owl movies? You get to see them.
With all of this technology, it was inevitable that technical difficulties popped up once. But they were immediately addressed by Al’s clear concern that he was disappointing his fans with the one brief delay during an otherwise very complicated and well-choreographed concert.
Speaking of well-choreographed, Al even hired local talent to dance as the gothiest cheerleaders you’ll ever see during his performance of Smells Like Nirvana. It was a really cool touch.
Despite all of this awesome on stage, Al and his band managed to outdo themselves for the encore. Now, I feel that the “Weird Al” parody of American Pie entitled The Saga Begins is the only good thing that the Star Wars Prequels brought into existence. Al’s song is also part of a fond memory from my high school senior year marching band, when – during a particularly terrible football game – we sang it in its entirety in the stadium bleachers.
The song will always have a warm place in my heart, and now I will never forget the evening when I – and 1,500 other people – sang the song with Al himself. He then followed it with an epic version of Yoda.
Although I’ve not seen Al perform anywhere else, I like to think that the design of Evans Amphitheater and the crowd’s willingness to allow his escapism to pour over us was what brought Al into the audience during one particularly colorful song about terrible pick-up lines.
His trip through the aisles was what prompted my post-concert text: “This evening I was 18 inches from Weird Al’s ass. Sorry, Wedding, I have a new favorite Day.”
In all seriousness my Wedding Day is still the best day of my life. But the “Weird Al” Yankovic concert at Evans Amphitheater is a close second. And I did tear up during both.
So, if I have to bring all of this together into some sort of point or purpose (and I’m being told that I do have to), it would be the following:
I’d highly recommend that if someone you enjoy is coming to Evans Amphitheater, go and see them there. It is an amazing space that can allow a performer to really be everything they could be.
And if “Weird Al” Yankovic is playing near you, please go get tickets and set your expectations high.
I’m certain they’re not as high as Al’s.
In the mood to catch a concert after reading that review? You can stay up-to-date on Live Nation concerts coming to Cleveland at https://www.facebook.com/livenationcleveland and you can view Cain Park’s full events calendar here.