by Julian Spivey
Randy Newman thoroughly mesmerized the sold out audience at Reynolds Performance Hall on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas on Tuesday, Jan. 20 in a performance accompanied by the Conway Symphony Orchestra conducted by Israel Getzov.
Newman managed to pack nearly 30 performances into his show that lasted well over two hours, including fan-favorites, deep cuts and movie scores performed by the Conway Symphony Orchestra.
Newman began his set with the utterly terrific “Birmingham” from his 1974 concept album Good Old Boys, my personal favorite of his. He would end up performing three more tracks from that album: “Marie,” “Guilty” and “Louisiana 1927,” my favorite Newman song and performance of the night. For a concept album about the South these performances all work fantastically well as singular performances.
His second performance of the show was one of the audience favorites of the night, 1977’s “Short People,” which was the biggest hit of his career charting at number two on the Billboard Top 40.
Newman added humorous anecdotes between many of his performances throughout the night, including claiming that he didn’t realize “Short People” would be controversial until it came out and that “I never hated small people until I wrote this song.”
Newman, a 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, is one of the greatest songwriters of all-time and is greatly known for his satirical wit and movie songs. But, he’s a particularly good love song writer as well and many of these songs that I personally was not previously familiar with were highlights of the night for me like “Love Story (You & Me)” and particularly “Feels Like Home.”
Of course it wouldn’t be a great Randy Newman show without the aforementioned satirical wit, which he certainly shows in song and in between performances. Newman is just the perfect kind of wry in songs like “Political Science,” “Better Off Dead” and “The World Isn’t Fair.” “Political Science” was definitely one of the many audience favorites and quite possibly received the biggest reaction of the night, both in applause and laughter.
Newman’s work in film was on grand display Tuesday night, as well, as he unsurprisingly performed “You’ve Got a Friend In Me,” one of his most notable pieces, from “Toy Story.” He stepped out from behind his usual piano midway through his set to take over lead of the orchestra from Getzov and led the supremely talented group of individuals through suites from some of his most famous and Oscar-nominated film scores like “Toy Story,” “The Natural,” “Maverick” and “Avalon.”
Newman leading the orchestra in these movie suites was a great show of both his and the orchestra’s talents, but I’d be lying if I omitted the fact that it made the show drag ever-so-slightly, at least in my opinion as the majority of the audience didn’t seem to mind. I think it would have been nice to cut “Avalon” and perhaps even “Maverick” from the set.
Among Newman’s other spectacular performances were “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” “In Germany Before the War,” “Sail Away” and “Dixie Flyer,” which he admits is one of the few songs of his with any autobiographical material whatsoever.
Following the beautiful performance of “Louisiana 1927” Newman briefly left the stage to an uproarious standing ovation before returning for a two song encore that began with “Lonely At the Top” and ended with a song off of his debut, self-titled album from 1968 “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.”
Newman is simply put a living legend and it’s a major feat for Reynolds Performance Hall in Conway, Ark. to bring in such a high caliber of performer, even more so to get him to agree to play with the local orchestra. Newman had great things to say about the orchestra all night long, saying he’s played with some of the best in the world and that Conway’s can do things that others simply can’t do. It was an all-around great performance I don’t think anybody in attendance will be forgetting anytime soon.