I am a child of nostalgia and history. I take great comfort in things that stay the same, or at least endure. That does not mean non-evolving, it means consistent. The man I will see tonight is consistent. He is also amazing and historic, a true icon of Rock n’ Roll… a legend.
It started in the ‘60s with the famed duo Simon & Garfunkel, and then the ‘70s with three brilliant solo albums: Paul Simon, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and Still Crazy After All These Years (my favorite). We also must not forget his character Tony Lacey in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall… one of my favorite films of all time!
The ‘80s and ‘90s gave us only two albums each, but one of those, 1986’s Graceland would be Simon’s monster international hit and the biggest of his solo career. His biggest seller remains the astounding Bridge Over Troubled Water, which came out in 1970 and would be the last with partner Art Garfunkel.
“Father and Daughter” from 2006’s wonderful album Surprise became a love song for my own daughter and I. If I could not put into words how much I loved her, maybe Paul could do it for me. I can, but he did, too… and the song really bonded us together.
Then in April of this year something magical happened again. Simon put out So Beautiful or So What, his most consistent and consistently pleasing album in years. Producer and Mixer Phil Ramone has gotten the very best out Paul, just like he did in 1975 on Still Crazy. It opens with a Christmas tune that proves yet again that Jews write the best Christmas music. The rest of the album is such a revelation and utter joy.
It’s a Wednesday night (Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m. would have been most appropriate) and we’re walking through the horrible tourist trap called City Walk to get to the Gibson Amphitheatre. To be honest, I still call it the Universal Amphitheatre… To me, that is what it will always be, but I didn’t want anyone to be confused.
There’s a guy offering to give two tickets away, but no one seems to take him up on his offer. Either they don’t need them or don’t trust him. Sad. They are good seats, too. One guys says he’ll take one, so he just hands it to him. When a woman informs him that the guy he gave the ticket to is a scalper, he walks back up to him and grabs the ticket out of his hand. Strange.
Apparently anyone who bought Mezzanine tickets was moved down to the Loge. Not bad for them, but sad that Paul cannot sell the place out.
The tickets said the show started at 7:15, which meant either there was an opening act, or that Paul wanted to start early. Most of us thought that was the case, until we got inside and I saw The Secret Sisters shirts for sale and on the wall. They are a young sister duo who alternate on guitar and sing lovely, beautifully harmonized country and folk ditties. They came on at about 7:30 and played for half an hour. One of them sounded like Norah Jones. They were good and very sweet and innocent in their banter, but for my tastes I prefer the more interesting The Chapin Sisters.
Six days ago Paul Simon turned 70. Tonight at 8:33 a youthful gentleman in his seventh decade walks on stage in jeans and a sports coat and is met with an immediate standing ovation. He is diminutive and boy like still, but towers in terms of musical genius. Several in the crowd shout “I love you, Paul.” He thanks the shouters and then asks if there is anyone out there who doesn’t love him. He figures those folks might be in the wrong place. I love the spontaneity and playfulness.
One loud guy wishes him a happy birthday. He thanks him, too and says, “It was a good birthday.”
He opens with “The Boy in the Bubble.” The sound is horrible. What the heck is going on? It’s a muddled mess. I am not used to hearing sound this bad at this venue. By the second song, “Dazzling Blue” from the new album, things are getting better. And as soon as he hits the first few notes of song number three, “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” all is right with the world.
Then comes “So Beautiful or So What”, the title track from the fantastic new album, the gorgeous “Mother and Child Reunion” and then the band really kicks it in with the Zydeco-influenced “That Was Your Mother.” The 8-piece band is tight and seem like they can play any instrument at any time and some of them do, moving from keyboards to horns to accordion with such amazing ease.
When Paul starts in on “Hearts and Bones” I’m locked in tight and not just because he is talking about “one and one half wandering Jews.” It is one of my favorite songs, and they are killing it. The band seamlessly glides into “Mystery Train” and I think “Wheels” to finish it off.
Next up is a slow and seductive version of “Slip Slidin’ Away.” It is soulful, and Van Morrison-like
Then “Rewrite” which is one of my favorites from the new one and a very interesting version of “Peace Like A River” that had an almost free form jazz/atonal like piano solo. It went way over my head. Suddenly the same guy has a metal drum placed in front of him. The same with the bass player. They proceed to play in perfect unison with the drummer and percussionist, launching into a fabulous take on “The Obvious Child.” The beat is delicious. But then my heart melts again as Paul pulls out my favorite Simon & Garfunkel tune, “The Only Living Boy in New York.” Pictures of New York City, the skylines and famous bridges move on screens to the back, while Paul is bathed in the spotlight, center stage. It was magnificent.
One hour and twenty-three minutes in, the set comes to a close with two Graceland classics: “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”, which finally brings the crowd to their dancing feet and “Gumboots.”
A mere four minutes pass before Encore #1, Paul solo with a guitar and “Hello Darkness…” comes out of his mouth for a powerful “The Sound of Silence.”
The band rejoins him and goes for broke with “Kodachrome” fading right into “Gone At Last”, “Here Comes the Sun”, “Crazy Love, Vol. II” and another absolute favorite, “Late In the Evening.”
The man has a few hits!
This time two minutes passed before Encore #2… The lush “Still Crazy After All These Years” and then the bass lovers dream and super-hit “You Can Call Me Al.” At 10:38, just over two hours in, he made the band introductions; smiled, waved and walked off stage.
I noticed in one show he ended with “The Boxer” which I was so hoping to hear, and while he didn’t do it tonight, the show ended on a real high note.
2012 will have Paul coming back to do a full 25th Anniversary of Graceland tour, which will be amazing, but tonight worked out just fine. His voice was remarkably strong and while he did not talk to the crowd much, he let his playing and that of his incredibly gifted band do it for him. You realize just how prolific and amazing a writer and performer he is in a show like this, that brought out a little of everything… I would have loved to have heard more S&G, of course, and some “Me and Julio…” and “Something So Right” would have been lovely, but there is obviously no way he could play it all. I left feeling very happy and satisfied and relishing in having just seen a living legend still at the top of his game. I can only hope I have so much to offer at 70. Hell, I hope to have some of that to offer now.
The Boy in the Bubble
Dazzling Blue (So Beautiful or So What)
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
So Beautiful or So What
Mother and Child Reunion
That Was Your Mother
Hearts and Bones into Mystery Train into Wheels
Slip Slidin’ Away
Peace Like A River
The Obvious Child
The Only Living Boy in New York
Love Is Eternal Sacred Light
My Little Town
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
The Sound of Silence
Gone At Last
Here Comes the Sun
Crazy Love, Vol. II
Late In the Evening
Still Crazy After All These Years
You Can Call Me Al