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Randy Newman, music’s Mark Twain

September 10, 2011
Randy Newman, songwriter extraordinaire

Newman is America's musical satirist

University of Toronto Convocation Hall, October 14, 2006

(The following is unpublished concert review.)

Randy Newman is an American institution, and America needs him now more than ever.

For one night though he belonged to Canada, bringing his songbook to Toronto for his first visit in 20-plus years.
With his blend of barrelhouse blues, Tin Pan Alley and occasional nods to rock, Newman can be considered one of the greatest songwriters of the past 40 years on his music alone. But it’s his tongue-in-cheek lyrics that are his charm (and occasionally get him into trouble, i.e. “Short People”). Newman should be seen in the same vein as Swift or Twain.

For his Toronto audience he covered an extensive list of familiar tunes and some still in progress during the two-hour-plus set. From the opening of “It’s Money That I Love” to the encore of “Sail Away”-his classic chronicling a slave trader trying to sell the merits of a new life in the New World-Newman displayed his wit and his eye for Americana, past and present: Racism, consumerism, foreign policy, even old rock stars who don’t know when to quit; he told the crowd they were a little too enthusiastic joining him in the “He’s dead” chorus of “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It).” Armed with only a piano, he also covered his songs that others made famous, such as “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and “Mama Told Me Not to Come.”

Even the odd glitch, like at the end of “Mama,” added to the evening. Self-deprecating as always, Newman joked about how he couldn’t figure out why he was playing so “shitty”.

He said he didn’t know why he hadn’t played in town for 20 years, as he’d pretty much play if someone offers him 200 bucks. Pity. Newman should hit the stage more often.

Or maybe someone should just give him a newspaper column or TV show.


From → Live music

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