Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Randy Newman @ The Calvin Theater, September 28th, 2008

I can't remember the first time I heard Randy Newman. He's one of a handful of performers I learned to listen to properly through reading Christgau's analyses of his albums. I have a bootleg concert recording from Germany, 2004 that I listen to a lot. I had only heard good things about his newest album, and I loved his appearance on the Colbert Report some months ago. So when I saw he'd be at the Calvin, I was curious, and I was rather eager to plop down the cash to see him. My man from Boston, Anthony, came with me.

He hit the stage at 8:00 on the dot and wasted no time by launching into two of my most favorite songs of his: "It's Money that I Love" and "My Life is Good." From there, he took us on a nice, long tour of his cannon. He played almost all the songs from his newest album, Harps and Angels, and, during the second set, he dipped way back to his first album for "I Think It's Going to Rain Today." His new album sounds great. "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" was a beauty, and so was "Korean Parents," which had the audience in stitches.

But it was his old songs that people came to hear, and he did not disappoint. I didn't keep track of the set list, but he played "Short People" and "Birmingham" and "Louisiana 1927" and "Dixie Flyer" and "Kingfish" and "Have Pity on the Working Man" and "Sail Away" and "Baltimore" and "Last Night I Had a Dream" and "Political Science" (a crowd favorite, which closed the first set) and "In Germany before the War" and "Rednecks" and "You Can Leave your Hat On" and "Marie" (which I found heart-wrenching). He had the audience chant the words "he's dead" and "you're dead" in "I'm Dead But I Don't Know It." That song is from Bad Love (1999), and he also did "I Miss You" from that album. I'd hoped to hear "The Great Nations of Europe." No such luck, but he did play the other great political song from Bad Love: "The World Isn't Fair." Let's see...what else? The "We are the World" answer song, "I Want You to Hurt Like I Do." "I Love L.A."

Seeing this guy play was like seeing someone like Neil Young or Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell. I was watching a guy who had written so many great songs that he could hardly disappoint. And he was a good enough performer that songs that you might think had worn out their welcome sounded brand new as they were played on stage. The audience was appreciative from beginning to end. Even during the most well-known songs, folks were laughing, like during "Political Science" and "Short People." It occurred to me during "Rednecks" that Randy doesn't seem to have too many black fans. I wonder why...?

If he comes to your town, don't miss him!

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