The Scene: It really is dissapointing when you realize that most of your generation has missed out on an incredible talent. While I understand that Randy Newman is not a spring chicken, he writes music that has wide appeal across generations as evidenced by his mega-success writing songs over the past 10+ years for Pixar’s animated movies.
The average age at the performance was at least 50 and before the show I overheard two guys in the bathroom talking about their regiments for treating enlarged prostate problems. Decidedly not the crowd whose next live music experience would involve Gibson Flying V guitars, moon boots, strobe lights and fog as mine will.
I grew up being exposed to all kinds of music I can honestly say that I enjoy being exposed to crowds like this. I respect each and every person who ventured out on Monday to see Newman play in the modern confines of the Lincoln Center theater. I guess it is understandable that the theater was not by any means packed as it was but the first of 5 performances in Fort Collins, but this is a performer who has played some of the most hallowed halls in our Country and around the world. He has graced the stage of Carnegie Hall, The Hollywood Bowl and countless other venues around the world.
With all that said, Newman didn’t seem phased by any of it and put on a great show. He created an intimacy with his down to eart, good natured attitude that is hard to match. He even made a couple of jokes about his age and the age of most of the audience members.
Randy Newman: At the stroke of 7:30, Newman walked out onto the stage very unassumingly. He took up his seat at the beautiful Grand Piano and launched right into “It’s Money That I Love” a tongue and cheek ballad accented with some tasty Honky Tonk piano playing that served as a precursor to the direction that much of the evening’s humor would take. Songs like “It’s Lonely at The Top,” “The Great Nations of Europe,” and “Political Science” followed later in the set and also showcased Newman’s signature brand of dry humor. He never missed a beat as the audience broke in laughter several times during each of these pieces.
Between songs Newman took time to tell short stories about the origin of some of the tunes and he even entertained requests from the audience toward the end of the show. He managed to keep the mood light even as he occasionally dropped strong anti-Bush sentiments. He doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously which is refreshing in this day and age of the preaching rockstar who see the stage as their pulpit.
While you may or may not know it, Newman has had his share of hits over the years. He didn’t neccesarily sing the versions that rose to the top of the charts but he wrote them just the same. He peppered his performance with solo renditions of several of these songs including: “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” made famous by Three Dog Night, “You’ve Got a Friend In Me,” which he sang for the movie Toy Story, and “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” which Tom Jones and Joe Cocker made into international hits for themselves.
As he finished “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” Newman shared with us a conversation that had with Joe Cocker a few years ago. Apparently Newman asked Cocker why he thought he had so much success with the song and Cocker simply replied, “it is all about the key you play it in.” Newman then demonstrated the songs recurring piano part played in several different keys. It was immediately crystal clear that the key Cocker chose was much catchier than the low register Newman had chosen when he originally penned the song. “I could have done that,” he sighed. “I just didn’t think of it.”
While much of the show was funny and he had us laughing throughout the night, Newman also delved into the more poignant and touching songs in his repetoire. Tracks such as “I Miss You,” written about his first wife when married to his second “Baltimore” and “Marie” constrasted starkly with some of the more humorous songs in his catalogue but also showcased his range as a composer and songwriter. One of the highlights of the evening came in the form of “Louisiana 1927,” a tear jerker of a ballad that recently came back into national focus when Katrina stuck in 2005. As he sang the lyrics “the river rose all day, the river rose all night. Some people got lost in the flood, some got away allright,” it was immediately clear why the song had touched so many during the terrible tragedy of the hurricane.
Whether he is packaging a harsh message in a pretty package or singing a truly heartfealt ballad about love or loss, Newman has to be ranked right up there with the classic American songwriters. His knack for words is uncanny and he couples that with extraordinary piano chops to create a lasting contribution to our musical culture.
Stage Presence: B+
Set/Light Show: C