Randy Newman is the perfect soundtrack for a break-up.
It’s official, Randy Newman is the perfect soundtrack for a break-up. Though many people know Newman for his saccharine work with Pixar, the musician has actually written some of the most wry and caustic songs of the past few decades. Newman’s bittersweet pen is back at it again with Dark Matter, his well-reviewed recent album that tackles Putin, a blues legend and even global warming. In support of the record, the 73-year-old musician turned in a stirring 33-song set at Portland’s Revolution Hall, showcasing both the sweet and sour sides of Newman’s songbook.
Before Newman took the stage, the older couple sitting next to me began to quarrel. “We’re done,” the woman hissed, collecting her beer and jacket as she left. The man sat in dumbfounded (and drunken) silence, and when Newman took the stage, it was clear she wasn’t coming back. After the rapturous applause died down, Newman seated himself at the black Steinway and kicked off the show with “It’s the Money That I Love” from Born Again (1979). Though the song is nearly 40 years old, it’s theme is still relevant today with Trump in the White House: nothing else matters but cash. “It’ll get you a half-pound of cocaine/ And a 16-year-old girl,” Newman sang, miles away from his Disney soundtrack work.
As Newman shifted into new songs “It’s a Jungle Out There” and “She Chose Me,” the man next to me began texting to his lost love in extra big font, explaining that he was finished with her, she would be happier with other men, it was time for him to “head off into the mountains.” For every text he sent saying the relationship was over, he would then send another telling her how great the view was from the third row and how she was missing out. Her responses consisted of telling him not to drive home drunk and that his behavior embarrassed her. Now, set these exchanges to a live performance of “Marie” and you’re in for a really fucked up night.
On the stage, Newman was an engaging performer who seems to enjoy telling self-deprecating tales in between songs. Both times I’ve seen him, he’s related a story about his daughter mocking his level of fame and how the stage is now crowded with similar “has-beens” with gray hair and thick builds. He even had us shout, “You’re dead!” at him during the chorus of “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It).”
Meanwhile, the guy next to me kept texting things like, “Fare thee [sic] my honey.” Thankfully, during the 20-minute intermission, one where Newman claimed he was going backstage to “shoot up,” the woman returned and whisked the guy next to me away. They didn’t return for the rest of the show.
Though Newman played about half of Dark Matter, the bulk of the set was dedicated to older favorites and deep cuts. Obligatory songs such as “Sail Away,” “Short People” and “Baltimore” all made appearances, yet Newman also made sure some of his lesser-revered albums were represented as songs from Land of Dreams and Bad Love all made appearances. Newman could have ended the show on a favorite such as “I Love L.A.” but instead reached deep with a gem like “Cowboy” from his 1968 self-titled debut and “Real Emotional Girl” from Trouble in Paradise (1983). As Newman walked from the stage, I looked at the two vacant seats next to me and hoped, like the musician’s songs, the couple recognized both the sweet and bitter sides of love and got back together.