Only Randy Newman could humbly grace the stage of Carnegie Hall, a place where the upper class have long gone to appease highbrow tastes, and open with “It’s Money That I Love,” followed by the tongue-and-cheek tale “My Life Is Good,” where the rich head to Mexico just to get a maid. The crowd cheered anyways.
When he wasn’t talking about his foibles with women, most of the set was marked with heavy political overtones with a very wry and clever, self-deprecating delivery. “Political Science,” from 1972’s “Sail Away” seemed as fresh as ever, with Newman suggesting that imperialism is the way to go, or at least a good quick fix.
The new “Korean Parents” chided the American education system, and “A Few Words In the Defense of Our Country” found Newman admitting that the country’s leaders are bad, but “hardly the worst” (Hitler, Stalin are “men who need no introduction”). Yet unlike many angsty performers, Newman’s approach is much more folksy and laid back — a “here’s what I think, take it or leave it” that’s quite refreshing.
Newman is also a jester hiding behind a piano. Many times he plays with the arrangements, subtly teasing different Southern traditions on “Birmingham” and “Rednecks.” He broke away to tell many stories about his wife, his early days of songwriting and what its like to have your teenage daughter tell you “you’re not that famous.”
And while a majority of the songs filled the hall with laughter, the few-and-far-between ballads brought the room to a silence, as Newman’s piano and crackly voice showed a sadder side of who many probably perceive as a wise-cracker. “Dixie Flyer” conveyed a somber, not-so-nostalgic version of America filled with Depression-like imagery, and “Same Girl” had Newman riffing on a more classical style of piano, telling the lonely tale of love for a junkie.
Much of the new “Harps and Angels” was played, including the oddly arranged “A Piece of the Pie.” The record is full of backing players, but tonight it was just Randy and the piano — a solo affair that felt like he was playing for a few friends after dinner.
Here is Randy Newman’s set list:
“It’s Money That I Love”
“My Life Is Good”
“The World Isn’t Fair”
“Laugh And Be Happy”
“A Few Words In Defense of Our Country”
“You Can Leave Your Hat On”
“I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It)”
“Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man)”
“Great Nations of Europe”
“You Got A Friend In Me”
“In Germany Before The War”
“A Piece Of The Pie”
“God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)”
“I Love L.A.”
“Feels Like Home”
“I Want Everyone To Like Me”
“Follow The Flag”
“Lonely At The Top”
“I Think It’s Going To Rain Today”