WHO else but Randy Newman could sit on a stage with only his Steinway for company, run through two dozen of his songs, and leave a full house wanting more?
Who else would want to try? But Newman's stripped-down concert at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was an entirely appropriate showcase for songs that are always pared down to the bare bones.
Rock's number one minimalist is famous for his aversion to work but his gradually-assembled collection of varied and extraordinary songs bears testament to the positive aspects of his refusal to be pushed into releasing regular 'product' for the record company.
His stark restraint enables the listener to function as an intelligent collaborator filling in the gaps and working around the nuances — a pleasing contrast to the traditional 'let it all wash over you' attitude of rock audiences, usually delighted to be battered into submission from the stage.
The strength of Randy's songs lies partially in his ability to become the convincing spokesman for the most unlikely characters. A Californian Jew, he has impersonated a cynical but believable God in God's Song, a German more than once, and an American from the Deep South in the marvellous Rednecks: 'Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show with some smart-ass New York Jew... ' That's what I call character transference.
The exploration of so many different sensibilities in the space of one concert adds surprising richness to apparent simplicity. Newman's humour is of course just as important. Even if you know all the songs by heart, the man's asides are often devastating, and in the true fashion of someone who doesn't want to waste space, he throws most of them in during the songs, splitting off into yet another personality to comment on singer or song, or to demand 'Take it!' to his hands at the keyboard.
His piano style is a subject in itself, a deceptively easy precis ranging through film and show themes to the blues, picking out and blending cliches from Gershwin or rock with equal ease: the style is as honed as his singing.
The voice, it must be admitted, is not a great technical instrument: he failed so dismally at an attempt on the final note of Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear that he went back for a second try and still didn't make it. But he sang with surprising force and proved again that his versions are best.
In keeping with the sawn-off shotgun feel of Newman's work the lighting effects numbered one: on the line 'Cleveland, city of light, city of magic', he suddenly had a full rig of white light shining down on him — an appropriately ludicrous touch to Burn On Big River.
Newman's stab-wound of a mouth almost stretched into a grin at the impressive response to his singalong number, Rider In The Rain.
That, along with the quick sellout and the American success of Short People proves he doesn't have to be only the critics' favourite. Short People went down well here too, though not enough to turn him to flattery. 'I'm glad you feel that way,' he said into the applause 'cause I've never seen such a bunch of shrimps in any country in the world'.
Sound Reports & Views
Music Review by Rob Mackie
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