Randy Newman seems a tad uncomfortable.
The voice is shot. He knows it, we know it, and the sound guy who was humorously asked if he could do anything to fix it, sure as hell knows it. The 68-year-old music maker could just as easily have phoned this one in. Sit there, keep it low, focus on the keys, say goodnight and pick up the cheque. But he struggles. And, quite often, it shows. But then, something strange happens. As awkward an opener as Mama Told Me (Not to Come) might have been, the strained vocals and rough delivery begin to fit rather nicely with the overall setting.
There are no special effects -- just an old man and his piano, relying heavily on his audience to trust themselves with a guy who can go from breaking your heart to tickling your funny bone in the time it takes most artists to tune an instrument.
Some of these songs were written at least four decades ago, so it makes sense that the voice behind them would have aged a great deal. Granted, this is just a bad night for the Californian's vocal cords. He ain't usually this hoarse. But, if he's this good on a bad night, then I'd love to see what he's like on a great one.
It's an intimate performance. What we have here is an entertainer who likes to make fun of himself and his work. He doesn't have to go on about how great our city is (although we do make for the best audience, apparently). Instead, it's as though we're an old friend. He'll playfully admit that 1977's Short People is quite a nasty tune. He's well aware that You've Got a Friend in Me (from Toy Story) is the closest he's ever come to the mainstream. That first wife of his is still in his heart (the touching I Miss You), and hey, he also reckons he might be past it (I'm Dead But I Don't Know It).
Tonight, we're also his choir, and he appreciates the help. "Feels like home to me," he finishes, as the audience begin their lengthy standing ovation. You'd be a fool to disagree.