Say whatever you like about “Weird Al” Yankovic and his broad range of parodies. Whether you’re a major fan (understandable) or a detractor (unacceptable), it’s hard to argue against the fact that Yankovic has an impressive eye, and ear, for detail.
While creating his parodies, Yankovic and his band painstakingly attempt to recreate the arrangements and sounds of the original song as accurately as possible. Sometimes it’s pretty mediocre, like the Garageband distorted guitar tone on ‘Canadian Idiot’, but most of the time it’s startling, like the 1980s synths on the Michael Jackson send up ‘Fat’ or the electronic sounds from the Imagine Dragons parody ‘Inactive’. More often than not, Yankovic’s major talent (apart from his humour) is his ability to replicate sounds to a prodigious degree.
That works seamlessly for parodies, but it’s a bit unsettling when Yankovic actually sings a song straight. Without his trademark turns of phrases or food references behind him, the tone of Yankovic’s voice, despite its wide and impressive range, becomes noticeably nasally. But Yankovic has worked to tone it down as he’s progressed through his career, and by the time the 2010s rolled around, he was versatile enough to sing any song, by any singer, of any gender, in any style.
Still, trying to copy a vocal laid down by a Beatle is among the most difficult tasks in music. That’s exactly what Yankovic was tapped to do when he appeared at George Fest on September 28th, 2014. Organised by Harrison’s son Dhani, the concert featured a formidable lineup of tributes, including Brian Wilson and Al Jardine singing ‘My Sweet Lord’, Heart’s Ann Wilson taking on ‘Beware of Darkness’ and Norah Jones giving her version of ‘Something’. Within that powerhouse lineup, up stepped “Weird Al” to take on the beloved rocker from All Things Must Pass, ‘What Is Life’.
The strangest thing about ‘What Is Life’ is how difficult it actually is to sing. Go ahead, cue up the chorus and attempt to hit those high belting notes that George is singing, and then try and go back down to the low notes of the verses immediately afterwards. It doesn’t sound like vocal gymnastics, but it’s an uncommonly daunting karaoke pick.
Kudos, then, to Yankovic and his ability to balance those highs and lows, all with some impressively lanky dance moves. Because it’s not a “Weird Al” if there’s not at least a little bit of a laugh involved. George liked a good laugh himself, so it seemed appropriate for people like Yankovic and Conan O’Brien to make appearances at George Fest.
Al wasn’t done either. In what is perhaps the strangest supergroup ever assembled to pay tribute to another supergroup, Dhani gathered Yankovic, The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, Mellowdrone’s Jonathan Bates, Spoon’s Britt Daniels, and The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne to trade lines on The Traveling Wilburys’ ‘Handle With Care’. It’s a strange assembly, but all participants add some poignant lines to the anthemic verses of the legendary tune.
Check out “Weird Al” Yankovic’s performances at George Fest down below.