Randy Newman – Live at the Berklee Performance Center

Live at the Berklee Performance Center
Randy Newman
(Boston – October 16, 2006)
by Matthew Robinson

Armed only with a Steinway and his own verbal creativity and melodic insight, songwriter extraordinary Randy Newman took a well-versed audience through a personal an political voyage that spanned 40 years and just as many plundered nations. Strolling out unannounced in jeans, sneakers and an island (though not quite Hawaiian) shirt, Newman kept the two-hour intermissioned set loose and casual, sharing stories and a few expletives as if he was talking to each fan in his home studio. Though the financial turn of “It’s Money That I Love” got laughs from the uninitiated, most of the audience was following every word and nuance- from the Chinese ‘motif’ of “Yellow Man” (accented by what Newman called “creative lighting”) to the briefly clapped-along tribute to “Short People” and many others. In addition to his tip to our Asian friends, Newman also paid his respects to “The Great Nations of Europe” the great cities of “Birmingham,” and (by way of the sharply cutting “Rednecks”) Boston, his beloved (as in “I Love) LA” and his own home state of “Louisiana,” the tribute to which was all the more timely and touching considering how the song presaged recent reality (“six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline”).

While most of the offerings sounded just as they do on his stripped-down “Songbook” release (Nonesuch), a few rearrangements (such as a backup shouter-less “LA” and a flat snippet of “Moon River” thrown in at the end of the otherwise beautiful “Marie”), the stories behind and between the songs made each one sparkle just a bit more. And when he called to the invisible band to “take it!!” the crowd filled in just fine, singing and clapping both during and amongst the classic Newman hits. From downtrodden natives (“Sail Away”) and exterminates Guanches (“Europe”) to Disney tunes-turned toothpaste commercials (“You’ve Got a Friend in Me”), Newman gave solid musical and lyrical evidence for his own musical claim that “The World Isn’t Fair,” but in the process, he showed that it is okay to laugh at yourself, poke fun at others, and conclude that “My Life is Good.” ©2006 M. S. Robinson, ARR