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Randy Newman
    Randy Newman
    Palace Theater
    October, 2000

So lets see. The last time I caught Mr. Newman in concert he was opening for James Taylor at a fog-bound Jones Beach theater. The Brooklyn gabbers behind me wouldn’t shut up. ("Who iz dis guy wid da curly hairya?") So I turned to my tormentors, politely advising them that if they didn’t hold the chatter down to a dull roar, they could accompany me to the nearest pay phone while I called in an anonymous bomb threat and empty the house completely.

Sort of like a character from a Randy song, wouldn’t you say?

At the Palace Theater, in full cool, grump regalia—large Hawaiin shirt, jeans, and ratty high tops—popular music’s premier curmudgeon and chronicler of society’s ills gave the many who came suspecting his nice "James and The Giant Peach" or "Toy Story" songs a swift kick in their Dockers and Donna Karans. From "Money That I Love," "Birmingham," and "Marie," through "Great Nations Of Europe," "Short People" and "The World Isn’t Fair," Newman busted us, warts and all.

Newman quipped "As we approached the end of the century I began thinking of all the best-of lists they’d compile and where would I fall within them." See? Even the best aren’t assured of their place. If you think you are, in Newman’s world you’re either over confident or too stupid to be sad so take your pick. Newman has always left the choice up to you by presenting both sides of the story ("Rednecks," "Feels Like Home"), staying totally indifferent (but comically optimistic) as to which side you choose. Either way he’s going to get a song out of it. And usually a pretty damn good one.

Newman drew from his long career playing, "The Girls In My Life (Part 1)," "Red Bandana" and "I Miss You." After a hilarious account of composing the score for Toy Story ("I wrote a lot of 16th notes, like Beethoven only shittier") the crafty, Tin Pan Alley ex-patriot continued with "You’ve Got A Friend In Me," then bouncing off "Real Emotional Girl." After introducing "You Can Leave Your Hat On" as ". . .a love song of a more diseased nature. . ." he encouraged the crowd to sing the self-mocking title line of "He’s Dead (But He Don’t Know It)." Trying to keep a stiff upper lip in the wake of a raving satirist having fun at his game, those in the SUV/Palm Pilot crowd laughed adroitly (if somewhat nervously) at "I’m Guilty" and "Political Science" then took a long breath during intermission.

When only a handful of us whooped it up for "Wedding In Cherokee County" (this one killed me—I never thought he’d dust this beauty off) you sensed old Rand was going for the throat. "I Love To See You Smile" ("I should sue @#!!@#@-ing McDonalds, that's what I should @*#!#@ing do!") gave way to the wistful reminiscence of "Dixie Flyer." A non-apologetic "Rednecks" (‘tis not pc to say what’s said) led into another audience sing-a-long on "Shame,"—Newman’s picture perfect exposé of a lonely old man chasing the young honies from 1999's brilliant return to form Bad Love, which yielded to the heartening eloquence of "Feels Like Home."

With his PT Barnum timing and genius, "I Love L.A." got most folks back on track, only to swiftly derail ‘em again with "Same Girl," closing with the sarcastic and simple "I Want Everyone To Like Me." Some circled the kiddies around them and hightailed it to the exits before the encore, leaving us lifers and the newly-converted with cutting gems like "Lonely At The Top," "Sail Away," and "Louisiana" ("It’s the same damn song as ‘Sail Away!’ I guess I sneaked that one by ya.") Though trying to defuse the bittersweet and hurtful "I Want You To Hurt Like I Do" with a tale of writing the song in hopes of getting it recorded by a big superstar chorus ala "We Are The World" seemed a bit odd, the elegiac "I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today’ brought the evening strangely full circle.—Mike Jurkovic

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