Some decades ago, I saw Randy Newman in Concert, just him and a trusty grand piano, so it was a real treat, years later, to see him in a similar intimate parlour-room setting, just him and a trusty grand piano, performing his back catalogue together with a few from his recent album Dark Matter. Nobody does political and social commentary like Randy, and ‘Putin’ like ‘Political Science’ of decades ago, is no exception. Nobody tells a story like Randy, and ‘Sonny Boy’ (again from Dark Matter), the story of the real Sonny Boy Williamson, whose name and soul was stolen by another, leaving him a lonely unknown bluesman in heaven, is no exception either.
Meanwhile, he rolled out classic after classic: ‘Short People’ (his only commercial hit over here really), other than the ones covered by the likes of Tom Jones, such as ‘Leave Your Hat On’, and his more recent film songs like ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’, all of which he sang in his inimitable, sometimes inaudible style, much to our delight. The audience, packed with senior citizens, applauded the intro to almost every song, even singing along, at least I did, we knew them all. There were only a couple of unfamiliar ones, one a participation song (‘I’m Dead – But I Don’t Know it’ from his ‘Bad Love’ album). We all had to shout ‘He’s Dead’ – it’s about a performer who just won’t retire, even though he’s past his best. The irony wasn’t lost on any of us, as he introduced it with the fact that there are more bands from the sixties touring than there are bands of today – probably because the young can’t get into the venues!
Who could deny Randy Newman’s place on that stage though, as he treated us to song after brilliant song, performing with such ease and humility, honesty too, saying ‘that was a shit solo’ as he tripped over a few notes here and there. No, it wasn’t a finely tuned and polished act, it was two hours packed with a set list he seemed to be making up as he went along. When he asked if there was anything we wanted to hear, my voice rang out the loudest, I think, and he dutifully played ‘Sail Away’, many sang along with the chorus, and as he came to the end, I wanted to shout out for another, but as if by telepathy, he segued into “Broken windows and empty hallways, a pale dead moon in the sky streaked with grey. Human kindness is overflowing, and I think it’s going to rain today…” I quietly sang along with one of my favourite lyrics “Tin can at my feet, I think I’ll kick it down the street. That’s the way to treat a friend.” That’s what I’ve always loved about this master songwriter, he says it how it’s often done, not how we like to think it is. We are a cruel world, yet soulful tunes and a dose of poignant humor can help us get by, and Randy has a self-deprecating air we can all relate to, if we take time out to listen.
He strolled off the stage, as he had strolled on, like he was on his way to somewhere else, but couldn’t remember where. It seemed fitting that he encored with another of my favourites: “Listen all you fools out there, Go on and love me – I don’t care, Oh, it’s lonely at the top, Oh, it’s lonely at the top.” I wonder if he’ll still be feeling and singing that in another decade’s time?
One thing’s for sure, he’s in the UK in early 2018 – so get there if you can!