ACL Last Night: Randy Newman & A Steinway Is All We Needed

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Check out all of our coverage from ACL 2011, including our hottest crowd shots and our slideshow from Sunday featuring Randy Newman, Arcade Fire and The Walkmen.

We still don't know how a 67-year-old turned in our favorite set of this past weekend's Austin City Limits Festival, but heck if Randy Newman didn't leave us on a musical high last night at Zilker Park. Only My Morning Jacket Saturday night came close for our own personal satisfaction, which has to be saying something about Newman's enduring, compartmentalized appeal. Also, we don't mind spending an hour with the characters that he summons in his songs.

Newman's set was inside the (mostly) genteel Vista Equity tent, a tent that saw Charles Bradley go half-shirtless, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band go atomic, and was witness to our third-favorite show of the weekend, the Barton Hills Choir of elementary-school kids. Somehow across the whole weekend, that was the most engaging venue in the park.

Newman opened with ""It's Money That I Love" from 1979's criminally underrated Born Again record, which we had been listening to last week, in a weird turn of serendipity. The album, with Newman as a garishly-painted business man, is especially prescient now. Dollar bills, y'all.

Newman solo onstage with just his compositions, a smile, and an adoring crowd was one of the most magical things we would see this weekend. Above the lights, the screams, and half-naked people running around the other stages, it was the simple design of a man and piano that thrilled us the most.

He wasn't flashy, because he never has been, but he definitely knows he has a treasure trove of music to show for the past half-century. "Short People" brought forth the most surreal sing-along of the weekend, with the shorty-hating track attracting a few hundred extra listeners.

Newman played a relatively newer song, "I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)," that has been lurking in his set lists for a few years now. Newman made the song, about a past-his-prime rocker, into yet another audience-assisted affair. "Harps and Angels," the title track from Newman's 2008 disc, was a worthy closer, but he would come back out seconds later to carpet-bomb a crowd that was already enraptured with his canon.

Yes, Newman encored with "You've Got a Friend in Me," which he wrote for Toy Story. Grown men were hugging one another, swaying, some fans had moist eyes, while others just sat and let the goosebumps run their course. Somewhere in the back, Rocks Off was doing one of those things.

We won't tell you which, but you can probably already guess.

The Crowd: Very packed, and surprisingly very diverse, though most of them forgot that there was no such thing as personal space at a music festival.

Overheard In the Crowd: "He's, like, the Jewish Bob Seger."

Random Notebook Dump: A lot of women in the audience were really feeling the forty-year old "You Can Leave Your Hat On." Like we said, there was a range of emotions on Sunday night.

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