Saw Randy Newman last night at the Centrepointe Theatre, in Ottawa. Intimate setting; 800 or so seats. Went with my former legal colleague, who had reminded me to get tickets after I had waited some four weeks after the concert was first announced. By mid-January, ended up with one of the last pairs of side-by-side seats.
Solo piano performance. Randy Newman mentioned that he hadn’t been in Ottawa for twenty-five years. The last time I saw him was nearly forty years ago, in 1972, at a Toronto coffee house called Grumbles, around Church and Parliament, which closed in 1973. The opening act was Jim Croce, accompanied by a superb acoustic guitarist, Maury Muehleisen. A year later, they were both dead, in a plane crash.
Main impression is of generosity in the music and delivery, coupled with sharp and intelligent wit. It was the same in 1972; his strengths have not faded in any way, while his repertoire is now vastly larger. Playing two full sets, with intermission, when he could have been viewed as having satisfied audience expectations with one. Mix of humour and pathos throughout. The comedian’s character that gets out of his own pain and confusion through making others laugh. The love songs that are so very thoughtful, wistful and bittersweet. This is the guy who writes “I Miss You”, a love song to his first wife, while married to his second wife. Lots of regret, amidst no second chances.
I had wondered why he wrote so much and so knowledgeably about so many areas of America, when I thought he had spent most of his life in Los Angeles. Turns out that much of his early life is described in “Dixie Flyer”, about spending the war years in New Orleans, with his mother.
Prior to the encore, his last song was “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”. There was a time when many artists regularly covered Randy Newman songs, and this was one of them, covered beautifully by Judy Collins. It was also an odd or maybe totally suitable choice to end the set: an early song, about loneliness and pessimism; kick a tin can, as you would treat a friend. Sentiments that never leave. From someone who, more than forty years on, can still laugh at life, and himself.