HE walks on awkardly, arms swirling, legs out of time, as if he will get around to perfecting the serious art of perambulation once he has dealt with the trivial stuff such as exposing hypocrisy, remembering personal pain, decrying imperialism, inveighing against racism and generally composing miniature symphonies of wit and wisdom.

Randy Newman, at 68, then sits alone at a piano. Alone, that is, apart from a confused Buzz Lightyear, the survivors of the Louisiana flood of 1927, the dispossessed of Baltimore, the transported slaves of 19th-century Africa, a child murderer, a dancing bear, Karl Marx and a lady only wearing a hat.

They are the various subjects of Newman's songs that can be crudely described as hymns to loss and longing. They are both both personal and political. Newman has a self-awareness that accepts a broken love affair affair can hurt more than a realisation of the various injustices of a cruel world.

Loading article content

His longing for a better place is informed by a cynicism that refreshingly accepts that he is, too, a gasping, struggling runner in the human race.

The genius of Newman – and it is all of that – is to give his audience credit for their intelligence while larruping humanity for its lack of it. He is the only white singer who can use the N-word repeatedly in a song, in his case to hit America over the head with bars of irony.

He races through two hours of songs, broken by an interval and punctuated by asides of brilliant humour, before finally marching off. He could work on the walk but Randy Newman stands alone.

HHHHH