Randy Newman – review

Royal Festival Hall, London

As the interval in his two-and-a-half-hour show nears, Randy Newman encourages the audience to sing along to I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It). It paints a deeply unsympathetic portrait of a rock star long past his prime, still dolefully slogging around the live circuit. "Nobody is retiring from rock'n'roll the way they said they would," protests Newman, by way of introduction, though the song hardly needs much in the way of explication: "Why do I go on and on and on and on and on," he sings. "And on and on and on and on and on?"

When the audience join in on the chorus, as requested, he looks up in mock disgust. "It doesn't have to be that enthusiastic," he deadpans. Indeed, performing the song represents rather a high-risk strategy, given that Newman is 52 years into his musical career, touring a show that leans pretty heavily on songs he wrote four decades ago. But then, he was never given to leaving well enough alone. Tonight, he plays 1974's Rednecks and it still sounds shocking, the way it boldly aims its bile in every direction undimmed by familiarity.

Newman never had much in common with other rock stars anyway. Certainly, he never really fitted into the west coast singer-songwriter milieu of the early 70s. His lyrics were disinclined to take it easy, and his songs were concise in an era of expansiveness – tonight most of them seem to be over in barely two minutes. And they've all aged incredibly well. His voice is rougher around the edges, but if anything it fits the material better. There's something potent about his struggle to hit the high notes in I Miss You, a song "I wrote about my first wife while I was with my second wife".

Alone at the piano, he's enormously good company, but has an uncanny ability to suddenly shift the room's emotional temperature. As you go from laughing aloud to The Great Nations of Europe to aghast silence as he plays In Germany Before the War, it's easy to be struck by Newman's ongoing uniqueness, easy to be thankful he keeps going on and on and on and on and on.

Contributor

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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