By Leslie Witt

Randy Newman played his Oscar-nominated song from Toy Story 3, “We Belong Together,” during his XRT concert at Park West Saturday night. After the show, he told the crowd, he’d be boarding a “Mickey Mouse” jet back to L.A., where he’d be performing the song at the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday. Before the big event was over he had claimed, for the second time in twenty nominations, the prize for best original song.

Most people know Randy Newman for his ditties in animated blockbusters like A Bug’s Life and Monsters, Inc, and for his orchestral scores in movies including Ragtime, Seabiscuit and The Natural. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Newman has built a massive body of music since the late sixties, and his lesser-known album songs are as precious as his movie hits.

Newman offered both in a rich retrospective at the intimate Park West. It was a rare Chicago appearance featuring just the man, his voice, and a grand piano.

Yes, he pleased the crowd with “You Have a Friend in Me,” “Short People,” “Rednecks,” “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and “I Love L.A.,” inserting much humor and insight between – and even in the middle of – songs. But most in the audience held Newman in high esteem for gems like “Political Science,” “Sail Away,” “Louisiana 1927,” “I Miss You” and dozens more you could add to the list. Here’s a video of Newman performing “Losing You.”

Newman’s lyrics and melodies capture the soul of a city, the sweep of history, questions of life and the tenderness of love, sometimes in two minutes or less. Never short on sharp social commentary, Newman just as often pokes fun at himself…and all of us.


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