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Randy Newman is the real piano man

Kat James Of The Record staff

Singer/songwriter Randy Newman wowed his fans at the Eccles Center Tuesday night with a combination of comedy, irreverence, pathos and political incorrectness. The concert, which had been scheduled for Snow Park at Deer Valley, was, in the course of a few hours, moved to the indoor location due to looming storm warnings.

Teri Orr, director of the Park City Performing Arts Center, in her introduction of this legendary performer, gave thanks and credit to all those who worked to make it happen, including city and school officials, police (directional signs), media alerts and volunteers. With high school construction next door, there wasn’t even any power in the Eccles Center the day before. Teri also entertained the crowd with a "stand-up" story of how Newman’s music had impacted her life in past decades and relationships. Someone should have recorded it.

Newman casually took center stage, seating himself at the gleaming Steinway, and in his signature honky tonk/ragtime style, began his set with "It’s Money I Love," explaining afterward he always liked to start an evening with a spiritual.

The sound was excellent and the shape-shifting light show behind him was the equivalent of what any computer geek would go crazy to have as a screen-saver. In retrospect, the Eccles Center provided a much more intimate environment for this concert than the ski hill would have.

Newman is an Emmy winner, Grammy winner and, after 17 nominations, finally an Oscar winner — last year for "Monsters, Inc." He’s written music for films such as "Ragtime, "Pleasantville," "Meet the Parents" and "Seabiscuit." Many of his songs — unfortunately performed by others, as he put it — made it to the top of the charts.

His set continued with "Birmingham," "I Always Will Love You, Marie" and the controversial-in-its-day, "Short People." Intended to poke fun at racist stupidity, it was, nonetheless, banned on some radio stations.

He admitted that some of his songs were autobiographical. His tender rendition of, "I Miss You," a song he wrote for his first wife while married to his second, left one with the thought, what did his second wife think of it? This was followed by and Oscar-nominate tune, "You Got a Friend in Me" from "Toy Story."

He sang a new and poignant tune. "I’ll Never Get Over Losing You." Who, Randy, who?

He played another of his well known compositions, "You Can Leave Your Hat On," which, coincidentally, was performed by Etta James at her Deer Valley concert last month.

Newman talked a bit about all the "old rockers" who never stop performing, citing Moody Blues, Procol Harum and Paul McCartney. Observing that he, too, was an old rocker, enlisted the audience’s help on "I’m Dead and I Don’t Know It," with the timed response of "He’s dead, he’s dead!" "You don’t have to be so enthusiastic!" he chided.

Ending the first set — saying he’d go backstage, shoot up, and be back in a bit — he sang "Political Science," which of course wasn’t. The gist of it was, "Everybody hates us so we might just as well drop the big one on ’em." Well, a bit more poetic than that.

The second half was filled with more familiar tunes, such as "Mama Told Me Not to Come," recorded back in the day by Three Dog Night and Tom Jones, "I Love to See You Smile" from the film "Parenthood," "So Hard Livin’ Without You," "Dixie Flyer" and "Louisiana 1927." The crowd got a chance to join in on the chorus of "Rider in the Rain."

In a send up of the ’80s multi-vocal humanitarian song, "We Are the World," Newman performed his humorous parody, "I Just Want You to Hurt Like I Do," which, he admitted, just didn’t catch on.

He moved on to the upbeat "I Love L.A." and finished the set with "Sail Away," sung in the voice of a 18th-century slaver convincing African youths of the joys to be found in America — "Ain’t no lions and tigers, ain’t no mamba snakes, just sweet watermelon and buckwheat cakes."

After a short exit, during which everyone stood applauding and demanding more, Newman returned with a couple of mellow tunes, "Lonely at the Top" and the melancholy, "I Think It’s Going to Rain Today." An appreciative audience responded with another standing ovation as he made his final exit.

My only (minor) disappointment was that he didn’t perform "It’s a Jungle Out There," the theme song of the TV show "Monk." Oh, well, I’ll tune in next week (Friday, USA) and sing along — just Randy and me.


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