Randy Newman shows 32 reasons why he’s an American treasure at Paramount show

Paramount Theatre marquee for Randy Newman’s concert on Sunday, December 10, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

It doesn’t take long for Randy Newman to make an impression. Ambling onto the stage with little fanfare, dressed in comfortable black attire, Newman sat down at the Steinway grand piano just past 7 p.m. and began a two-set, 32-song evening that testified as to why he’s one of America’s greatest-ever songwriters.

Newman’s songs are mostly quick and to the point, which allows him to survey a broad range of his catalog, even if he’s still only scratching the surface of the hundreds, probably thousands, of songs he’s written since his self-titled 1968 debut album. Between numbers, he chatted casually with the audience, treating them like people he’s known all his life. And through music, he has.

READ MORE: Our 2011 American-Statesman interview with Randy Newman

You get a little bit of everything with Newman. Politics? How about his new “Putin” right out of the gate, after which he chided himself for writing a song that “turned out almost favorable.” Geography? Newman surveyed “Baltimore,” “Birmingham” and “Louisiana 1927,” really just singing about the human condition all along the way.

Family fare? “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” has delighted generations of “Toy Story” devotees. Love songs? They simply don’t get any better than “Feels Like Home,” which wrapped up a brief encore just past 9 p.m., or “She Chose Me,” one of six tracks from his new album “Dark Matter” that he worked into the set.

And there’s always plenty of humor. “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It),” from 1999’s “Bad Love,” has gotten only more relevant across two more decades, Newman suggested; he apologized to younger artists for the fact that “the stage is clogged with gray-haired people” such as himself. Asking for crowd-participation — mostly just answer-chants of “He’s dead” — Newman received a booming response from the respectful but eager-to-have-fun audience, and he seemed to genuinely appreciate it.

Newman, who turned 74 a few days ago, doesn’t go for mobile-camera video or photos during his shows, and the Paramount crowd honored his wishes, keeping their focus on the moment and the music. He rewarded them with a wonderful evening that seems like it’s almost routine for him but is a rare pleasure for concertgoers who don’t get many chances to see legitimate living legends do their thing.

When he asked for requests fairly early in the show, he inevitably got beseiged, for he’s penned too many classics to work them all in to a single evening. There would be no “Rednecks” or “God’s Song” this time around, but he did play 1977’s “Short People” — somehow the only top-40 hit he’s ever had — as well as longtime favorites such as “Marie,” “Sail Away” and “You Can Leave Your Hat On.”

And he was happy to oblige someone’s request for one of the new album’s tunes, “Brothers,” a fascinatingly imaginative tale of the Kennedy White House playing off twin levers of the Cuban missile crisis and the Washington Redskins football team. It’s the kind of song that could only come from the mind of Randy Newman. We’re lucky to have him.

Set list:
1. It’s Money That I Love
2. Putin
3. Same Girl
4. Birmingham
5. Short People
6. She Chose Me
7. You’ve Got a Friend in Me
8: It’s a Jungle Out There
9. Marie
10. Cowboy
11. Red Bandana
12. You Can Leave Your Hat On
13. I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It)
14. Political Science
15. Sonny Boy
16. Guilty
—Intermission—
17. Baltimore
18. Laugh and Be Happy
19. In Germany Before the War
20. My Life Is Good
21. The World Isn’t Fair
22. Wandering Boy
23. Dixie Flyer
24. Louisiana 1927
25. Losing You
26. I Love to See You Smile
27. Brothers
28. Sail Away
29. I Love L.A.
30. I Think It’s Going to Rain Today
—Encore—
31. Lonely at the Top
32. Feels Like Home


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