Randy Newman, Tower of London festival

Tower of London festival

Being introduced on stage by a beefeater must be a first for even so veteran a singer-songwriter as Randy Newman. Looming large in his beach shirt, jeans, white socks and loafers, he shambles up to the grand piano with a shy wave. But he is a very great entertainer indeed, rattling through 18 of the funniest songs ever written with a wry anecdote, relaxed one-liner and the chutzpah to get the crowd singing along "You're dead! You're dead!" in I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It).

Subsidised by his soundtracks to such family fare as Toy Story, A Bug's Life and Monsters, Inc, for which he won an Oscar, Newman the adult songsmith has long been minority box office. Tunes such as Birmingham and the autobiographical Dixie Flyer echo the parlour and saloon bar ancestry of Stephen Foster and Hoagy Carmichael; his rueful piano swagger warmly counterpoints the sobering implications of his songs' taboo-goosing burlesque. His love songs (Marie, I Miss You) lay bare acute neediness rather than romantic fancy, his grandstanding power ballad is called I Want You to Hurt Like I Do, and his generational anthems include It's Money That I Love and The World Isn't Fair, which points out to Karl Marx that a capitalist system where "froggish men" such as, say, Randy Newman can make second marriages with "beautiful women" has a lot going for it.

He's hardly a hot date attraction for today's earnest young achievers, then, though were he to reposition himself as a sit-down comic, he might grab a slice of that market, too. But for sophisticates who can stand the finger of mockery twisting to implicate us all in the universal sin of self-delusion, there is no more bracing, hilarious and oddly cockle-warming night out.

Mat Snow

The GuardianTramp

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