Weird Al Yankovic has been one of the most successful musicians in the humor genre to date. His parodies are international successes and his clever renditions have given him much deserved musical recognition. What is interesting about Weird Al, is that while you’re laughing at the lyrics, you come to realize that the music is actually quite good. No matter what song he is doing the supporting music is solid. Sometimes Weird Al used session musicians to the extent of Ray Manzarek of The Doors doing keys and helping him on the stylistic parody, "Craigslist," whose release was just after the case closing of the “Craigslist Killer.”
Many of Weird Al’s songs are not graced by the presence of such top notch musicians, so how do they end up with such spot on melodies? The answer is Steve Jay and Jim West. His guitarist and his bassist are who are responsible for the great tunes you hear underneath all of Al’s great jokes. Recently, Al and his band embarked on the “Ill Advised Self Vanity” Tour, which focused less on direct parodies, and more on original songs and stylistic inspirations. It seems the set list varies night to night but upon seeing the second date show at the Danforth Music Hall, we were graced with the comedy stylings of Emo Phillips, and songs such as the "Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" and "Yoda." We then raced to the Garrison on the other side of town to see Steve Jay and Jim West on the “Parallel Universe” tour, where they choose select cities to do their own after show. Their original music is drastically different from their work with Weird Al, and yet somehow so fitting with his scene. Jim West said at the show, “The only common denominator [between Weird Al and I] is the Hawaiian shirt.” Jim “Kimo” West is famous for Hawaiian slack-key guitar playing, and Steve Jay played a high strung steel plated bass in the same fashion as one would use a guitar in a deep, mellow, easy listening rock set.
It was going to be slim, timing wise. The Weird Al show at the Danforth was just ending after a two song encore at 10:15pm, and West and Jay were due to commence at the Garrison at 11:00pm. We rushed from the Danforth on the subway to the next venue. When we arrived, we were pleased to find that they had not started yet, and were just in the midst of setting up. It was a change of pace to see these musicians control the atmosphere in which they were about to perform, assuming they are used to a crew of hundreds setting up the typically extensive stage show that Weird Al is expected to deliver on every tour except this one.
After getting in the front door of the Garrison, we were guided past the front bar area and into the back where the stage is. We found Jim "Kimo" West laying out his merch table with as much pride as an aspiring emerging musician. We briefly spoke with him, complimenting him on the killer show they had just come from, and explaining that we were fans of theirs. He was kind and outgoing, and very grateful to receive compliments. He oozed humility and excitement, and his vibes were nothing but welcoming. He was gracious enough to grant me an autograph. Afterward, both West and Jay were floating between setting up, tuning their instruments, and interacting with the crowd. The majority of the crowd seemed to be close friends and Weird Al aficionados, ones who involve themselves with every aspect of the act. They knew who they were coming to see, and they were excited to be a part of it. The show was set up so they would perform separate sets, and then jam together.
The first set was performed by Jim "Kimo" West, and his attitude and his music were in total sync. His songs were a reflection of himself and his love for Hawaii. The beauty of the slack-key style transcended though his acoustic guitar with each note coming straight from the heart. The songs had sprinklings of perfect harmonics, and brought warm fuzzy feelings to guitarists and listeners alike. The temperature outside was cold for March in Toronto, but inside the Garrison was warm as Jim “Kimo” West brought the heat and gentle beauty of Hawaii to the intimate crowd for the duration of his set.
Steve Jay on the other hand, had an introspective, mellow rock set. His songs are an interpretation of his own emotions, and fleeting thoughts. Some of the content is conceptually heavy, and has a touch of jazz inspiration fused with soft-rock sensibilities. His bass playing definitely borrows from jazz stylings, and is the forefront of the melodies on an instrument that is normally comfortable in the middle ground of a song. It was unique, because among the bass riffs he played bass chords in the style one would jam with a regular six-string guitar. Steve Jay performed an intriguing set through his unique style and poetic lyrics. The contrast between the show at the Danforth, Jim “Kimo” West, and Steve Jay was truly captivating.
Being musicians that built their careers on the perfect parody, which involves the intense covering of other people’s songs, it makes sense that in their own time they choose to perform the music that drives their passions. These guys are incredibly talented, and practiced musicians. They are the only ones who can say they are truly dedicated to every genre. The entire night was musically satisfying, and each part of it was special in its own way, and thus forms an incredibly interesting bigger picture. It is highly recommended to check these guys out. You can find the remainder of their tour dates here.