- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

Now that he is no longer the Susan Lucci of the Oscars having taken home his first golden guy for the song "If I Didn't Have You" from the movie "Monsters, Inc." in March after 16 nominations and no wins Randy Newman is celebrating with a concert tour and a new album, "Johnny Cutler's Birthday" which comes out May 21.

A prolific songwriter, Mr. Newman is known for the hits "Short People" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On." The bulk of his oeuvre comes from film: Movie fans have been tapping their feet to several of Mr. Newman's film scores and original songs in films such as "Ragtime," "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story." He also wrote "I Love Los Angeles," which became an anthem for the city, and "I Love to See You Smile," from the 1989 movie "Parenthood," which has since been borrowed for several advertising campaigns.

"My music has a high irritation factor," Mr. Newman once said in an interview. "I've always tried to say something: eccentric lyrics about eccentric people. Often it was a joke. But I would plead guilty on the grounds that I prefer eccentricity to the bland."

He carries that eccentricity to his live performances, with irascible banter salting the sweetness of his songs. At a recent appearance at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, Mr. Newman opened with "Toy Story's" "You've Got a Friend in Me," a charming ode to friendship, then afterward cracked, "It's a lie, of course, but what do you expect? It's a cartoon."

If the only time you've heard Mr. Newman play live was on his 1970 concert album, you owe it to yourself to take in a set when he and his Steinway baby grand play the Birchmere Sunday and Monday. You'll laugh, you'll cry and you'll probably be surprised to find you know more Randy Newman songs than you thought.

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On the darker side, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds will perform Saturday night at the 9:30 Club. The band is winding up its 14-city tour in support of "No More Shall We Part," its 11th studio album.

Founder Nick Cave crashed London's pop music scene in the early '80s with his band Birthday Party, a raucous quintet from Melbourne, Australia, with a taste for blues and trouble. Within a few years, however, the Birthday Party was over, and by 1984, Mr. Cave had formed The Bad Seeds with former Party member guitarist Mick Harvey.

In the years after, the band made its home in cities as diverse as West Berlin; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and London, recruiting members as others left. Today, there are eight Bad Seeds, including Mr. Cave and Mr. Harvey.

While Mr. Cave's distinctively dark voice and potent lyrics have been the guiding force behind the band, he has spent much of the past 20 years on several nonmusical side projects. In 1999 he curated and directed London's Meltdown Festival, which included artists such as Nina Simone and Lee Hazlewood. He has also written several books, film scripts and stage plays, and has acted in and scored movies.

Musically, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have grown significantly during the last several years, in no small part due to Mr. Cave's transition from bad-boy excesses to a more settled life as a father and husband. The Bad Seeds' last studio album, "The Boatman's Call," was praised for its intensely personal themes of love, loss and faith. On "No More Shall We Part," Mr. Cave and his band continue to probe the inner life.

Onstage, the band is captivating, shifting from trance-inducing grooves to raging blues that leave their audience enthralled, sweaty and grateful. For a taste of what's to come on Saturday, you can catch the band performing tomorrow night on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."

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In the late '80s, Michelle Shocked was one of a big group of female singer-songwriters making music that drew as much from personal experience as it did from what was going on in the world around them.

Her debut recording, "The Texas Campfire Tapes," was a lo-fi project that quickly had labels scrambling to sign her. In 1988, she electrified audiences with her Mercury debut "Short, Sharp, Shocked," a stirring collection of story-based folk songs with a punk attitude, including "Anchorage" and "If Love Was a Train." After several years of frustrating the label's executives with her refusal to stick to a formula, Miss Shocked sued to be released from her contract and since 1994 has been making records on her own. Her newest CD is "Deep Natural," an overstuffed opus of 28 new tracks and her first studio recording in four years.

You can scratch the surface of "Deep Natural" when Miss Shocked performs Tuesday night at the Birchmere. Miss Shocked's live performances mirror her eclectic musical influences and her independent streak. Expect a little bit of gospel, folk, blues and rock, along with some opinions on the way things are.

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