Randy Newman Associated Press photo
Randy Newman landed in the Songwriters Hall of Fame because he wears so many songwriting hats so well: biting satirist, social/political/historical commentator, pop sentimentalist and movie-theme specialist.
He put on all those hats and more Monday at the sold-out Guthrie Theater in a thoughtful, often hilarious and quite satisfying two-hour, two-set solo concert.
At the grand piano, Newman is a sit-down comedian. He sets up his songs by explaining the context or inspiration for his compositions. And, of course, he often adds a little biting commentary. In fact, at times, he turned his concert into a version of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” by reviewing his own performance while he was giving it. His self-deprecating style found him comparing himself to Shostakovich “only crappier” or playing a piano solo and saying this is where the guitar solo goes.
Newman, 67, also made jokes about parenting, the Guthrie, Prince and Northrop Auditorium, where he once performed, remembering the 4,700 chairs at the University of Minnesota venue where “people came dressed as empty seats.”
Between all the light-hearted comments and black-humor lyrics, the Grammy-, Oscar- and Emmy-winning Newman showed that he is a well-rounded pianist, steeped in various New Orleans styles (he spent his summers there until he was 11) that filter into nearly every one of his songs. And, of course, it was abundantly clear that the Los Angeles native is a skillful tunesmith of tender songs. He can write a heartwrenching unrequited song (“I Miss You,” “Losing You”) or a heartwarming ditty (‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” “I Love To See You Smile,” “Feels Like Home”) with the simple emotionalism of one of pop’s best.
At the Guthrie, he didn’t leave any one of his songwriting hats on too long, as you can see from his generous 34-song set list.
It’s Money That I Love/ Birmingham/ I Miss You/ Mama Told Me Not to Come/ Short People/ Maria/ The Girls in My Life Part 1/ The World Isn’t Fair/ Living without You/ Great Nations of Europe/ Harps and Angels/Real Emotional Girl/ I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It)/ God’s Song/ Political Science
Last Night I Had a Dream/ Burn On/ In Germany Before the War/Baltimore/ You’ve Got a Friend in Me/ You Can Leave Your Hat On/ Guilty/ Dixie Flyer/ Losing You/ A Wedding in Cherokee County/ Rollin’/ Rednecks/ I Love To See You Smile/ Sail Away/ I Love L.A./ Feels Like Home ENCORE Lonely at the Top/ Shame/ I Think It’s Going to Rain Today
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