Zankel Hall, September 28, 2003:
I go into Manhattan, on a gorgeous fall evening, to see Randy Newman. I can park right on 57th Street, after 7:00 P.M. on Sunday nights. Randy Newman is the last performance of the month long celebration of the newly opened Zankel Hall at Carnegie. I have a press pass access seat thanks to Sarah Bruning at Carnegie. Thank you Sarah. I get my press seat from Bob at the backstage entrance on 56th Street. Bob is very informative and accommodating.
I go downstairs into Zankel Hall early at 7:30 P.M. I get a chance to take in the gorgeous, newly opened, concert venue. Zankel Hall has quite a long history, dating back to the beginning of Carnegie Hall itself. The hall is amazingly decorated all around; just fantastically done! I am directed to go all the way around the turret that surrounds the stage to see the bedrock wall. The bedrock is left exposed for visitors to see and behold. You can put your fingers into the blast holes. This is the first time in 70 years that all the stages will be open here at Carnegie Hall simultaneously.
At 8:36 P.M. the lights dim and Randy Newman is introduced. He comes out casually dressed in a white shirt and black pants. His opening tune is, “Last Night I had a Dream.” The arrangement is staccato 4/4 meter that leads to a colorful change. Randy’s style is all his own. He is an amazingly talented and creative musician for many, many years. His vocal delivery is dry and matter-of-fact. That’s Randy Newman. The next song, “Jolly Coppers On Parade,” is a gospel style rock progression. It’s from The Little Criminals LP. This is an excellent composition about his attitudes on police authority. The third song is, “Birmingham,” which is delivered slowly with passionate emphasis. It conveys a mysterious, sullen and melancholy musical message. Randy Newman is an excellent storyteller. He sings very straight-forward and from the heart.
Randy introduces the next number, “I will sum up the last 600 years of Western civilization in 2 minutes and 48 seconds.” The song is, “The Great Nations Of Europe.” This depicts a humorous story of Western civilization that is clever, upbeat and sarcastic. The lyric is excellent! The next song, “Marie,” is quiet, slow and sparse, with well-timed use of rests for spatial emphasis. There is a super melancholy vocal delivery that almost seems to be breaking up, with emotion. Randy is a very personal, touching and emotional storyteller. Randy goes into his signature composition, “Short People.” The piano rhythm is down on the ones. He makes a slight mistake and stops. He is so relaxed, that he can joke about something others would try to ignore or cover up completely. Randy talks about his salt & pepper hair, and how that told him the last century was wrapping-up. He talks about a Shostakovich and Newman comparison and elaborates, “I didn’t have Stalin breathing down my neck.” Next, Randy plays, “The Girls In My Life.”
Randy Newman sings, “I’m Dead But I Don’t Know It.” The audience is directed to sing the refrain, “he’s dead,” and we all join in together. Everyone gets great enjoyment from this song. The last audience response is, “your dead!” This rock progression is strong, sardonic and abrupt. Excellent number! Randy expresses a wide range of emotion in his song content and vocal delivery: from sarcasm and dissonance, to emphatically slow and sweet, and even a fleeting sadness and remorse. The next song, “We Won’t Forget,” is almost tearfully expressive and a somber and sorrowful lament, with a very sparse and staccato piano accompaniment.
Randy plays, “Political Science.” He laughingly interjects, “should I shoot up to do the rest of the show?” And the cynical political satirist sings, “We’ll drop the big one and see what happens.” This is amazingly insightful political commentary from a very keen and savvy intellect.
The second set starts with a boogie-woogie composition called, “It’s Money That Matters.” He has a tremendously mocking vocal delivery. He performs the Albanian wedding song. He comments that it is, “a song in bad taste that’s held up well.” “Maybe That’s Why I Love Her so,” is an energetic 50s rock progression. Randy sings, “Man From Dusseldorf.” This tune is about a murderer. It is slow, sad, melancholy, quiet and somber, with a strong sense of mystery. It conveys a deep and heartfelt message and story. This is a very unorthodox musical delivery. Randy introduces the next tune as “a ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ progression” and sings, “Baltimore.” He sings a love song to his first wife while married to his second. This creative arrangement has both major and minor modes and a dynamic and uneven tempo. This very touching song is, “I Missed You.”
Randy sings the Three Dog Night hit, “Moma Told Me Not To Come,” which is his composition. He segways into the Toy Story movie song, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” which is a catchy rolling melody and a smart lyric. He comments that like Mendelssohn, “we play the same instrument.” “That’s Why I Love Mankind” is next which is done slowly and very effectively articulated. He sings a presidential composition, “ Big Bear, No Heart.” He sings a song for Lester Maddox, “Rednecks.” This tune is bright and lively and very upbeat with poignant sarcasm toward politicians. “I Just Want You To Hurt Like I Do,” is next. This is brutal honesty and extremely stark-reality imagery. Randy sings a song called, “Shame,” about an old man and a young girl. We all join in the vocal refrain, “shame, shame, shame.” He sings, “Something Special,” which is very touching, soft and melancholy. He sings, “Feels Like Home To Me.” The next tune is a gospel progression, “Sail Away” which is followed by, “Streets Of Evangeline.”
The encore song is, “I Think It’s Gonna Rain.” This is very touching and sincere. The second encore song is, “My Life Is Good.” This is hard edged, humorous and uniquely original and risqué.
Randy Newman puts on a tremendous show tonight. He is very unconventional, sardonic, caustic and immensely talented and original. His devoted audience smiles, stands and applauds until the lights go dim. I have always admired Randy Newman and now I must admit; I am a full-fledged Randy Newman fan! The creative aura he emanates is unlike any other artist, I have witnessed recently. He is quite unique and very, very impressive. YES!
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