By DAN MACINTOSH
Randy Newman’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl was billed as “Randy Newman: The Albums 1968-2018,” and his extensive 28-song setlist more than lived up to this ambitious billing. Anyone seeing Newman for the first time would have walked away with a satisfying overview of Newman’s career to date.
At 74, it would have been easy for Newman to just rely on his regular concert set, which usually only involves Newman and a lone piano. Tonight, though, Newman was backed by a four-piece band. This was not just any band backup band, though, but a quartet mostly comprised of the musicians that accompanied Newman on Dark Matter, his most recent studio full-length. Matt Chamberlain played drums, David Piltch was on bass and master producer Mitchell Froom added extra keyboard touches. Guitarist George Doering was the only exception to the studio crew, as he replaced Blake Mills. Each of these players sensitively meshed with Newman and his idiosyncratic songs.
Newman’s Solid Catalogue and New Music
Furthermore, Newman didn’t just reprise his older material, although there were plenty of well-aged nuggets from the past included. He sang the hilarious (and hilariously relevant) “Putin.” (By the way, it was sometimes difficult to decide what was funnier: Newman’s song lyrics, or his between-song one-liners. For instance, he joked that the players were going backstage to shoot-up, to introduce the evening’s intermission). Newman also sang “It’s a Jungle Out There,” the Monk TV show theme song, “She Chose Me” and “Wandering Boy” from this latest album. Both “She Chose Me” (a song about marrying someone better than you) and “Wandering Boy” (possibly concerning a wayward child) each revealed the depth and tenderness of Newman’s pen. How Newman switches emotional gears so deftly is nothing short of amazing.
Video courtesy of pacificcoast3:
Newman’s Music Often Misunderstood
Newman again exemplified his wide emotional range with the final two songs from the evening’s first half. He followed the sarcastic “Short People” — which he dead pan back-announced with the quip, “So much for the hits” — with “You’ve Got A Friend in Me,” a Toy Story song that warm’s every child’s heart.
Many misunderstood “Short People” at the time, by assuming Newman, the person, hated the height-challenged. However, it was Newman singing in character, from the twisted perspective of that damaged character. Such misunderstanding is nothing new for Newman. So, no, he wasn’t seriously calling for the nuclear bombing of all the United States’ enemies with “Political Science,” for instance.
David Newman Conducts Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
Having cousin David Newman conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra only added to the evening’s specialness. Conductor Newman opened the evening with the Randy Newman’s orchestral instrumental “Suite from The Natural.” This full orchestra’s beautifully melodic accompaniment helped compensate for Randy Newman’s limited vocal range. Like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, two equally genius songwriters – albeit, vocally-challenged ones — Randy Newman’s singing has far more character than natural skill. Nevertheless, I’ll gladly take a unique voice like Newman’s over a pitch perfect vocalist any old day of the week.
It would be a physical impossibility for Newman to play all his fan favorites from the past fifty years. As career overviews go, though, Newman’s performance tonight was as good as it gets. If the high-quality material found on Dark Matter is any indicator, Newman will likely only get better. He’s still in his prime, and it’s impossible to predict how long this prime will last.
Video courtesy of Barbara Dourmashkin-Case