Solo Rutle

Palace Theatre, Newark
There are some things a wise musician will not attempt. And there were some points during the first half of this show when it felt like Neil Innes was working through a list of them.
He performed My Brother Makes The Noises For The Talkies without the aid of sound effects. He asked a not-yet-warmed-up crowd to sing along with the line "I'm all alone" and then thanked us, seeming not to notice how little noise was coming back. (This was followed up with another audience participation routine in which we recited "I will not recite, parrot-fashion…")
But Innes has too much guile, too much showbiz experience, and too many witty, skilful songs not to win out. By the second half, he had us going through three call-and-response routines in a single, rapid chorus, and was sounding much more invigorated himself.
Some quick career notes: Neil Innes began in the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a bunch of 1960s art students who mixed elderly music-hall numbers with adroit contemporary stuff; he was the songwriterly foil to Vivian Stanshall, the plummy-voiced anarchist who fronted the group. (It was the Bonzos who recorded I'm the Urban Spaceman, which Innes now introduces as his "medley of hit".) He went on to become a sort of musical consultant to Monty Python (that's him singing to "Brave Sir Robin" in …and the Holy Grail) and to form the Rutles, spoof Beatles whose songs come close to matching the originals.
Last night's performance covered most of this CV, and confirmed him as both a brilliant parodist -- he can get Bob Dylan's dreadful wheezy harmonica playing to a squeak -- and something of an old hippie. His most recent musical target was Elton John. There was lots of new material, pleasant and melodic and with dextrous lyrics, but these days he is writing about what he knows, without putting on disguises. A touching piece about hearing of the deaths of friends; a whole series on irritations of modern life, from lousy TV to computers. These draw murmurs of assent, as well as laughs.
Not all the satire is on target. A series of "sponsors' jingles" (for which Innes and band put on dark glasses) come across as nostalgic rather than threatening. But this is an act that continues to develop, by a man willing to follow his instincts. It isn’t always successful; but it is still alive.