When: Thu., Nov. 3, 9 p.m. 2016
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3
MAYBE I'M DOING IT WRONG: AL RIGGS PAYS TRIBUTE TO RANDY NEWMAN
You might very well see some short people at Al Riggs's twenty-two-song revue of Randy Newman's music at The Cave on Thursday. But you won't hear "Short People," Newman's blackly humorous hit of 1977. Nor will you get to nestle inside "You've Got a Friend in Me," Newman's fortune-making, Oscar-nominated heart-tugger from Toy Story. If this sounds like churlish aesthetic elitism at work, be assured that Riggs, a Chapel Hill-based singer-songwriter, has not been motivated by snobbism in assembling his set list.
"It's really more of a personal thing, because these are just twenty-two of my favorite Randy Newman songs," says Riggs, who first discovered Newman through Pixar films and movies his parents watched, like You've Got Mail. Eventually he found his way to Newman's Sail Away, the record that established the acerbic L.A. native as one of America's most respected songwriters. Entranced, Riggs set out to copy the songs, and in doing so, taught himself to play piano.
"There were these brilliant beautiful arrangements that I wasn't really hearing anywhere else," he says. "But underneath all that were these incredible lyrics that just oozed a weird mix of sincerity and cynicism that I really never experienced before."
The essence of Randy Newman is his one-of-a-kind croaky voice over piano lines tinged with ragtime, blues, Broadway, New Orleans, and other elements. Accordingly, Riggs is doing this tribute on his own, just him and his piano. Some songs, like "Cowboy," have presented a challenge to arrange for solo piano, but the show isn't a total stretch; he's spent a few years working out these songs, and some, like "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," have already joined his live repertoire. The program will lean toward the songs he heard as a kid, like "Old Kentucky Home," from 12 Songs. It's one of his favorites. Employing a quote he picked up from a Newman documentary he watched in preparation for the gig, Riggs says it's a song about an American bully in a bullying America.
"I've always been fascinated with the way that he writes male characters through this weird pride masking this incredible shame," he says. These flawed personages, in all their passion and contradictions, will be given a full airing when Riggs sits down to play. Second Husband, whose single "The Swells" is a love song about enjoying being eaten by a shark, opens. —David Klein
THE CAVE, CHAPEL HILL
9 p.m., $5, www.caverntavern.com