When will I end this bitter game?
When will I end this cruel charade?
Everything I write all sounds the same
Each record that I'm making
Sounds like a record that I made
Just not as good!
Throughout the two sets, Newman, in his usual dark suit on a stage with nothing more than a grand piano and minimal lighting, delivered his relaxed introductions with the timing of a seasoned comedian. Talking about "The Girls in My Life," he recounted how his wife of two boys and a girl told him, "If I'd had the girl first I'd have thought the boys were retarded," though he did have a chance to get back at her with "I Miss You," "a love song I wrote for my first wife...while married to my second." Self-deprecation was equally intact, as he described writing "the beginning a song cycle like Schubert's, only crappier; it made me laugh, when I thought of Schubert, and how I'd lived twice as long....quite a waste, really." After the applause for "Short People" died down, he quipped, "There aren't any short people in this country, but I'm glad to hear you feel that way."
The near-capacity crowda surprisingly broad cross-section of age and gender, making clear that Newman's lost none of his appealwas largely familiar with almost every song he played, whether it was classic material like "Sail Away," "Louisiana 1927," "Guilty" or" You Can Leave Your Hat On," or newer material like "Red Bandana," "Dixie Flyer" or ""Laugh and Be Happy." Without the benefit of the album arrangements, Newman's solo renditions were often unexpectedly short, sometimes seeming to end almost mid-sentence. But in every case, the delivery was perfect, as Newman proved that it's possible to be a writer of substance, while relying on the sparest, most economical prose, like on "Love Story," where the most mundane life actually seems pretty darn sweet.
A couple of short encores and, with Newman taking a few moments to shake hands with a couple of front-row fans, it was all over. In many ways, not a lot has changed since his 1983 show: one man, one piano and a gradually growing repertoire that get to the heart of the human condition with simple statements of truth and no excess, no self-aggrandizing, and no "look-at-me" posturing. With the follow-up to The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1 (Nonesuch, 2003)the piano/voice solo album he'd resisted for most of his careerdue out in May, Newman's Ottawa show was the perfect preview. Hopefully he'll come back a little sooner next time...or, at least, sooner than he can remember.