Fergie kicks off Grandstand acts at state fair

Brian Mackey

The Grandstand concert series at the Illinois State Fair kicks off this weekend with a current chart-topper, a chart-topper of the ’80s and a man who’s made a career out of mocking chart-topping musicians.

Fergie gets it started on Friday, “Weird Al” Yankovic will wield his mighty accordion on Saturday and Huey Lewis and the News (with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts opening) rounds out the weekend lineup on Sunday.

With recent hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Clumsy,” Fergie is one of the biggest acts — and the most expensive — ever to take the Grandstand stage.

Born Stacy Ann Ferguson, Fergie, 33, has been in showbiz most of her life.

She spent much of the 1980s on the television show “Kids Incorporated,” about a group of teens singing in a cover band. In the 1990s, she sang in the all-girl pop trio Wild Orchid.

It was the pressure of being a child performer, Fergie has said, that fostered her addiction to crystal meth.

“It was the hardest boyfriend I ever had to break up with,” Fergie told Time magazine in 2006.

“I dug deep as to why I got there. It’s the drug that’s addicting. But it’s why you start doing it in the first place that’s interesting. A lot of it was being a child actor; I learned to suppress feelings.”

After beating her addiction, Fergie asked will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas to help her with a solo album. Instead, she ended up joining the group for 2003’s “Elephunk,” which scored hits with “Where is the Love?” and “Let’s Get it Started.”

After another Black Eyed Peas album in 2005, Fergie finally released her solo album, “The Dutchess,” in 2006.

With will.i.am and others in the producer’s chair, “The Dutchess” blends hip-hop and pop. The catchy hooks draw you in and then refuse to leave your head.

Several songs benefit from easy memorization. If you can spell, you’re halfway there, as in “Fergalicious,” in which Fergie’s name, and the words “tasty” and “delicious,” all get the spellbound treatment (“I’m the F to the E, R, G, the I, the E”).

But the gloss of the production belies darker emotions than top-40 radio usually permits. Fergie has it both ways, tempering sexuality with modesty, showing both toughness and vulnerability.

The breathy, upbeat track “Glamorous” is filled with hip-hop bravado: “We flyin’ first class / Up in the sky / Poppin’ champagne / Livin’ my life / In the fast lane.” It’s not quite Jay-Z rapping about drinking Cristal in a Bentley, but it’s in the same ballpark.

But in “All That I Got,” an R&B slow jam, she sings, “Baby, baby when you’re looking deep in my eyes / I know you’re seeing past my make-up / Into the little girl that used to hide out and cry / When her parents fought.”

Opening for Fergie is the Los Angeles band Carney, which has a sound that simultaneously evokes Led Zeppelin, the White Stripes and the Beatles, if John Lennon had been a little angrier.

In addition to her musical success, Fergie also has had small parts in two movies: the 2006 remake “Poseidon” and “Planet Terror,” Robert Rodriguez’s half of “Grindhouse.” Last week it was reported Fergie would play a prostitute opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in the upcoming movie version of the musical “Nine,” directed by Rob Marshall of “Chicago” fame.

The Illinois State Fair is betting $300,000 on Fergie — guaranteeing her nearly a third of the money being spent on Grandstand acts — but Fergie’s ticket sales have lagged well below the break-even point.

The concert does not appear in the tour schedule on Fergie’s official Web site or on her MySpace page, which lists only one upcoming show, on Aug. 28 in West Springfield, Mass. The reason behind the omission is unclear, and potentially leaves some fans in the dark about her appearance at the fair.

Regardless, thousands of fans have already bought tickets to see one of the biggest pop stars ever to play the state fair.

It’s a sure bet “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Saturday concert will draw a different crowd.

“White & Nerdy” is not just the title of one of Yankovic’s most recent songs.

Set to Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’,” Yankovic raps, “My MySpace page is all totally pimped out / Got people begging for my top 8 spaces / Yo, I know Pi to a thousand places / Ain’t got no grills but I still wear braces.”

Yankovic, 48, puts on a frantic live show with numerous costume changes, sometimes including an inflatable suit that expands for “Fat,” a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and one of Yankovic’s earliest hits.

In June, blogging on his MySpace page (which, in reality, is only somewhat pimped out), Yankovic wrote about how tiring his performances can be; he had just resumed his multiyear “Straight Outta Lynwood” tour after several months off.

“I didn’t pass out from exhaustion on stage,” Yankovic wrote, “so I’m going to call it a rousing success!”

Many of Yankovic’s songs come off best as videos, and past concerts have benefited from a giant video screen above the stage. It keeps the audience laughing during costume changes with “Behind the Music”-style clips and also serves as a crucial accompaniment to some of his songs.

None may be funnier than “Trapped in the Drive-Thru,” an 11-minute animated send-up of R. Kelly’s endless “Trapped in the Closet” song cycle.

With Yankovic voicing all the characters, “Trapped in the Drive-Thru” chronicles a married couple’s epic quest for dinner.

In a scene that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever been married, or even had a roommate, the couple searches for options in the fridge: “I said, ‘Well, there’s tuna I know’ / She said, ‘That went bad a week ago’ / I said, ‘Is the chili OK?’ / She said, ‘You finished that yesterday.’ ”

The sincerity and passion with which Yankovic delivers the lines is something to behold.

Yankovic still is writing new material, though some of his biggest songs were recorded more than two decades ago.

The same is true of Sunday’s headliner, Huey Lewis and the News.

Lewis hit it big in 1984 with “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” which would reach No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Other hits included “Hip to Be Square” and “The Power of Love,” the latter from the movie “Back to the Future.”

The News has been together since 1979, and still has four of the six original members. The band’s sound has been defined in part by the brash horn section underlying most of its hits.

Despite the passage of two decades since his band topped the charts, Lewis, 58, is still writing new songs. Last month, the band’s title song for the movie “Pineapple Express” was released on the Internet.

“Pineapple Express,” which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco, appears from the trailer to be — as improbable as this sounds — a violent stoner action-comedy.

The title track is vintage Huey Lewis, with screaming horns and ’80s-style keyboards. The track might as well have been recorded 25 years ago — close your eyes and you can see Lewis standing there in a peach-colored shirt, wearing a bolo tie and holding a keytar.

Less vintage is Lewis’ use of the universal sound effect for pot smoking: a loud inhaling sound followed by coughing.

Lewis sang “I Want a New Drug” more than two decades ago. The more things change …

Brian Mackey can be reached atbrian.mackey@sj-r.com or (217) 747-9587.

Illinois State Fair

Grandstand Concerts

* Fergie with Carney

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

TICKETS: $38 for track and best reserved seating;

$34 and $30 for reserved seating

* “Weird Al” Yankovic

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: $20 for track and best reserved seating;

$10 for reserved seating

* Huey Lewis and the News with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $30 for track and best reserved seating;

$25 and $20 for reserved seating

Tickets are available at the Grandstand ticket office or through all Ticketmaster options: by phone at 544-9400, (800) 827-8927 and (800) 359-2525 for TTY orders; online at www.ticketmaster.com; and at all physical outlets.