31 October 2015
One of the first ‘grown up’ LP’s I remember listening to as a 13 year old, was Randy Newman’s 1971 ‘Live’ and it had such an effect I rushed out the following year to buy Sail Away as soon as it was released. Remember all of my friends were listening to Slade, Sweet and T Rex, so I was considered something of an oddity.
Regardless of musical tastes that have come and gone in the last 40 odd years Randy Newman has remained by my side and seen me through some tough times.
Which brings me to tonight. I first saw Randy Newman in concert a mere two years ago aged 55; and my brother; from whom I ‘borrowed’ that original LP had remarkably never seen him play live; so it was a family night out for me and him.
As the lights dimmed, there was a palpable sense of excitement among the 2,000 plus attendees in the Sold-Out Hall as the elder statesman of singer-songwriters strolled across the stage and took his place at the grand piano.
He nodded at the audience and the opening bars of Simon Smith (and his amazing dancing bear) brought a ripple of recognition from a few fans. Halfway through the song I furrowed my brow, as Newman’s voice was far croakier and a tad ‘drier’ than expected; making me worry for the rest of the show.
Mercifully, following a quick slurp of locally sourced water (I saw the label!) at the end, restored one of Americas finest singing voices to it’s normal gruff rasp that we all know and love for Baltimore which followed.
Obviously I sat taking notes; but what can I say about the likes of In Germany Before the War, Jolly Coppers on Parade and Leave Your Hat On which hasn’t been said before? If you don’t appreciate these gems stop reading now, I insist.
Of the relatively new songs in the first half It’s Money That I Love was almost jaunty as he cranked the pace up to ‘stroll’ mode; but phew; things got straight back to normal with the beautiful love song written for his first wife (when married to his second wife) I Miss You. At this stage I realised he was ‘winging it’ rather than using a set-list; as when the applause died down he looked slightly puzzled then sang another love song; She Chose Me; a marvellous song from the rubbish film Cop Rock.
Then, after another beautiful love song; and one I didn’t recognise, I Love to See You Smile it was back to the olden days with a song that still has the ability to shock – Yellowman. I will defend his right to sing it; but the least said the better by me.
The opposite is true of the song that followed. Proving he still has a razor sharp mind and the ability to take a subject that no one else sing about; Putin’s Putting His Pants On was laugh out loud funny and intellectually spot-on.
With every song lasting about two minutes; and even with the occasional piano flourish stretching them out to three minutes; the songs came and went like fireflies. Plus; only someone with a back catalogue like Newman can slide in You Can Leave Your Hat On (a very sleazy version), Guilty and Sail Away in the first half of a concert.
The highlight of this set, for me was the song about artistes from the 1960’s still touring in 2015 (and he included himself) called I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know it) with audience participation for the chorus.
During the interval we got chatting to some friends of mine (I do have some) and we tried to pigeon-hole Randy Newman; what was he? Singer-songwriter – yes. Rock and Roll – yes. Jazz – yes. Show Tunes – yes. All true but none tell the whole story.
The second half started with Birmingham; written in 1974 but horribly still relevant in it’s own way today.
Again the two minute opus’s came and went with Newman hardly missing a note during the hilarious Short People to admit “he sounded particularly nasty tonight.”
Aha. His piano playing. It’s not until you hear a master musician like this play a grand piano in an acoustically perfect concert hall that you realise how rubbish everyone else is. Fact.
The songwriter had previously introduced a couple of earlier songs; but much was lost due to his accent and muttering; but the elongated intro to songs from his Pixar days was informative and hilarious in equal measures.
Obviously every fan has their favourite songs; as was proved when he asked for requests and the reverential audience suddenly became teenagers again; but I was lucky because my two favourites Life is Good and Red Bandanna both made appearances tonight alongside my brother’s Political Science; during which he played air-piano.
With the rumour of a new album being whispered during the break we were regaled with a new songs Means a Lot To Me (Mama); a delicate ballad based on an Irish Folk song from 1870.
With my watch still saying 9.30 Newman closed the show with I Think It’s Going to Rain Today before glad-handing the front row as the audience gave him a standing ovation.
Oh! What’s this? The house lights remained off and Mr. Newman returned with a perfectly pitched and droll, It’s Lonely at the Top; which was probably my highlight of the evening; then I Love LA with it’s harsh but fair lyrics and finally Feels Like Home.
What more can I say? One man and a piano; no flashing lights, no dancing girls or interminable solos; just a bunch of songs that go some way to telling the story of the 20th and now 21st Centuries.