A Jose Canseco cameo juices up the Lonely Island's tour-closing Armory show

The Lonely Island

The Lonely Island Publicity photo

I’ve heard good things about the National’s set at Rock the Garden on Saturday, but did Jose Canseco join them onstage?

Thought not.

Around the time that the steamy Walker fest was winding down, the former Oakland A’s slugger/steroid aficionado/absurdist Twitter desperado was appearing unannounced at the Lonely Island show at the Armory. Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer, who’d been recreating their roles as Canseco and his equally juiced teammate Mark McGwire from their recent Netflix special, The Bash Brothers, cowered in (presumably) mock fear.

“I’m not going to kill you. I’m not even here to hurt you,” Canseco told the comics. “But you know what? You’re doing this wrong. I’m going to show you how to do this the right way.” And then, to show he was a good sport, Canseco joined them to perform the song “Jose & Mark.”

The SNL-spawned comedy-rap trio of Samberg, Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone, who wrapped up their short debut tour in Minneapolis Saturday night, have thrived over the past 14 years because they’ve found that celebs are often just as eager to be in on the joke as Canseco was. Of course, the multitude of big-name guests who’ve contributed to Lonely Island tracks are a little busier than Canseco these days, so they couldn’t be present at the show. (Not even T-Pain, who’d sailed in for “I’m on a Boat” at Summerfest in Milwaukee the night before.)

So a clip of Michael Bolton, purporting to be a live satellite feed, preceded his blustery declamation of blockbuster movie plot summaries, “Jack Sparrow.” A muppet stood in for the (not entirely unmuppetlike) Justin Timberlake during a medley of his mock-loverboy Samberg duets “Dick in a Box,” “Motherlover,” and “3-Way (The Golden Rule),” with a horny Lady Gaga puppet getting in on the action by the end.

But the remainder of the guests—the nerded-out Nicki Minaj of “The Creep,” the giddily postcoital Akon of “I Just Had Sex”— appeared solely via video clips, in the same SNL Digital Shorts where you first encountered those songs. And while that screen was much larger than any you have at home unless you are very rich or very odd, you still might be wondering, “What’s the point of recreating video-driven comedy songs onstage?” Or, more pointedly, “Is there any reason to pay to watch someone recreate video-driven comedy songs onstage?”

Well, I’m here to tell you the answer is: Maybe!

Pop music today is so rife with guest features that just about any big concert requires prerecorded vocal bits from outside contributors. And as with any one of those shows, Lonely Island didn’t serve up their tunes straight, but offered mild twists on the gags: Alexander Hamilton’s pop culture cachet has skyrocketed since the Lonely Island mentioned him on their breakthrough rap, “Lazy Sunday,” so of course the night’s rendition swerved into a snippet from Hamilton that inspired much singing along.

There were T-shirt cannons that fired blank T-shirts, an extended laser cats video, and more costume changes than a Cher show. (OK, as many, at least.) There were appearances from Samberg characters Ras Trent and Connor 4 Real and Shy Ronnie, who attempted Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” but just repeated “Jamba Juice” over and over.

And the more participatory the tracks, the better they landed. It is undeniably more fun to shout “a woman let me put my penis inside her” in a room full of 8,000 people than to giggle along with your friends at home; same goes for the aggro refrains of “I Threw It on the Ground” or “Like a Boss.” This is comedy that thrives on familiarity, where the joke gets funnier when you know the punchline and get to join in.

Rap parodies are historically wack, often because they condescend to the music, forgetting that hip-hop itself has a sense of humor. But these guys are rap fans (white rap fans, yes, we’ll get to that) who don’t so much mock rap as start by accepting its basic conventions, exaggerating them till the lyrics topple into absurdity. That’s the case even when the joke is that white people are lame. “YOLO” urges that since you only live once you should exercise extreme caution and “Like a Boss” flips the rap bigshot’s go-to boast to refer to office life, but the former incorporates Kendrick Lamar’s investment strategy and the latter leads up to Samberg fucking a giant fish.

There was some great local color as well. Maybe Seth Meyers’ intro, during which he claimed the tour was winding up “because you can’t follow Minneapolis” was sheer pandering, But a running joke that the group would be appearing post-show at the Panera Bread at Eighth and Nicollet (caveat: “bad bitches only”) built up to a claim that Michael Bolton himself would, later that evening, be taking “coke shits” at Murray’s Steakhouse. (Here's the scene outside Panera later that night.)

Maybe you had to be there. But maybe you should have been.

We're on Stage
Jizz in My Pants
Diaper Money
The Creep
Ras Trent
Like a Boss
Threw It on the Ground
We Like Sportz
Sicko Mode (Shy Ronnie)
I'm So Humble
Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)
Jose and Mark (with Jose Canseco)
Uniform On
Joe Montana Rap
IHOP Parking Lot (video)
Lazy Sunday (Alexander Hamilton interlude)
Dick in a Box / Motherlover / 3-Way (The Golden Rule)
We Fell Off a Horse (video)
I Just Had Sex

Incredible Thoughts
Donkey Roll
Jack Sparrow
I'm on a Boat