Randy Newman at Sage Gateshead
Wednesday, February 21 2012
Tonight, one man and his piano held an audience of 1,000 people spellbound for two hours.
I first discovered Randy Newman when I ‘borrowed’ my brothers copy of ‘Live’ in 1971/72 and many of those songs have stuck with me ever since and I have dreamed of seeing him perform in such a basic manner ever since, but; after all of these years I would have forgiven him for performing some of the more obscure songs from his diverse repertoire or even a selection of his Oscar winning film scores; but ever the showman I got the Greatest Hits show that I’d dreamed of and it went on to receive a well deserved standing ovation.
The concert opened with a bit of a rarity; Newman’s cynical Great Nations of Europe which was followed by Yellow Man (with politically incorrect yellow lighting!) and set the tone for a look back on Newman’s 40 year career.
Perennial favourites Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear and Mama Told Me Not To Come have both aged gracefully and classics like; You Can Leave Your Hat On, Marie, It’s Money That I Love are all as sharp and quick-witted as ever and the cleverest song in Pop music; Short People should be used as a masterclass in songwriting for any aspiring musicians in the audience.
Newman takes more risks than anyone else I can think of and tonight when he inhabited the guise of the narrator of Rednecks it was all too easy to believe he was a horrible racist; but he’s not and it just shows what a genius the man is.
Although we only got short snatches tonight; what I’d never really noticed previously was what a brilliant pianist Newman is and I’d love to have heard him pad out a couple of the sub-two minute songs with a little bit more ‘melody’, but that might have detracted from the brilliance of the actual lyrics.
At one stage Newman even got the audience to enthusiastically call out “You’re Dead!” as the chorus to a song of the same name about recording artists that go on too long after their creative spark has died. Part of the lyric was ‘your songs still sound the same/just not as good.’ Who could he possibly be thinking about?
We also heard a beautiful version of the Toy Story song You’ve Got a Friend In Me and the recent Harps and Angels, which was written during and after his heart scare and was simply spine tingling.
As most people reading this will already know Randy Newman doesn’t possess a classically trained singing voice and it’s certainly an acquired taste; but what I can say is he’s finally grown into it and now uses the raspy tones to great effect when necessary.
As Newman had closed the first set with what I thought was his ‘signature song’ Political Science, which was just as scarily relevant today as it was when first written 40 odd years ago; I was puzzled as to what he would end the event with: so when I heard the opening notes I fluent my hands to my face in mock despair. How would I not have guessed? It was the majestic satirical look at stardom and a song I want played at my funeral, Lonely at the Top.
It was an honour to be among the disappointingly small crowd at Sage Gateshead to see one of music’s true geniuses play and enjoy playing songs that have been the soundtrack to my life.