"OC audiences are the best audiences in the world," exclaims Weird Al with his trademark friendly chuckle. Changing to a more serious tone, Al explains, "I definitely have a major fondness in my heart for Orange County audiences. They're always extremely responsive and enthusiastic-- I always look forward to playing in the area."
Al grew up in Los Angeles, but he considers his upcoming Aug. 12 trip to the Orange County Fair a hometown show, and one he's particularly anticipating because of his history there: "For years and years whenever we'd play there at the OC Fair we'd break attendance records. People would come out of the woodwork and I'd get to see people that I hadn't seen since high school showing up for these shows."
Al's band has been together since the early '80s, playing the OC Fair countless times, and they show no sign of slowing down. This group of friends have genuine respect and love for each other, as Al explains, "I found these guys early on and not only are they some of the best musicians in the world, but they're really great guys. There's no drama on the road. We just have fun, we do our job; it's a little family out there. "
Indeed, they must love working together; the band has been reuniting to make albums and tour for nearly 30 years now, although its members have plenty of other projects and passions. Longtime guitarist Jim "Kimo" West, for example, has released several slack key guitar albums and regularly plays festivals and solo shows. He still enjoys working and touring with Al, especially the challenges thrown at him. Sometimes figuring out the parodies is a "huge amount of work," West says. "I listen over and over to pick out all the parts." West offers an example: "On [the latest album] Alpocalypse, 'TMZ' had mandolin, steel guitar, and electric guitar." After he figured out all the instruments and their parts, the next challenge was changing "the key to better suit Al's voice while keeping the original flavor of the song." (They often change the key in song parodies in which the original vocalist is female).
Al has branched out as well, recently making the New York Times bestseller list with his first children's book, When I Grow Up and has a second book on the way. Nathan Rabin (of the AV Club) has written a book about Al due out in October. Al's also written and directed ten episodes of a web series called Face to Face with "Weird Al" Yankovic for the Nerdist YouTube Channel and has appeared on several television shows of late, including Conan, How I Met Your Mother, The Aquabats! Super Show! and will appear on Comedy Bang Bang on August 10.
With the way Al has dipped his toes lately into so many other media, you'd think he'd decide to take it easy at home for a while, or at least focus on work he can do entirely in Southern California, but that's not the case. Music is his truest passion and the stage his mistress: "Music has always been my first love in a sense. It's what I enjoy the most, and the live performance is my favorite part of that."
Whether you've never experienced a "Weird Al" show or you've already caught a stop on the Alpocalypse tour, the OC Fair is the place to be on August 12. Al and his band consistently create a multi-media extravaganza, with enough energy and costume changes to rival Lady Gaga and hilarious interstitial clips on an LED screen visible to the entire outdoor audience. And if the man has grown bored with donning a fat suit or an Amish hat night after night, he certainly doesn't let on; he understands that he's playing for us, explaining, "Half the tour never changes because at this point I've got a big body of hits that fans would be very upset not to hear in a live show."
Still, he says, in between tours he'll ask fans which deeper cuts they'd like to hear. An outpouring of enthusiasm for "Frank's 2000" TV" on Twitter is to thank for its addition to the set list (alternating nights with "You Make Me"). Al explains, "We try to have a little change involved in the show so if you see the show two nights in a row maybe it'll be a slightly different set list."
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One thing's for certain: the Star Wars-based parodies aren't going anywhere, especially if Jim West has anything to say about it. "I feel good when I wear the Jedi costume," West says. "It resonates with my inner Jedi."