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Paul Simon

4 May

Meeting America & the World with Mr. Simon or “Here I Am, The Only Living Boy In First Ave”

There is a slightly dangerous feeling around seeing your childhood musical heroes perform for the first time, the potential for deflation and disappointment, or, from a writers stand, that it will be just about everything you hoped for and your happy blubbering infantile soul won’t be able to form a coherent sentence around the experience. (Case in point, last months Bright Eyes concert, which left me a flattened wreck and so I guess I’ll just keep that treasure to myself, thank you very much.) But with Paul Simon and his wonderful band, packed onstage as they were, First Avenue was alight with joy as he pulled songs from across his career and kept a two-hour-long set alive and vibrant.

Simon wasn’t particularly effusive from stage, a nominal greeting and a “thank you” here and there, but he did quip “Man, it’s great to play in a club,” which had the same timbre as the line “It’s great to play a neighborhood concert,” from the legendary 1981 Simon & Garfunkel Concert in Central Park. It was one of those little things, that to a fan of Simon’s body of work, resonated throughout the night- that some things really haven’t changed that much for Simon, he remains wry and understated and very human, which gives him so much staying power. Opening up with “The Boy in the Bubble”, it took a second for Simon’s vocal mic to get going, but after, that, it was on a roll and his incredibly tight band kept the backing rhythms pulsating and driving throughout. It is one of my personal favorite things about Simon and his music that he has pushed his own rhythmic sensibilities throughout his career, borrowing heavily of course from Africa, South America and the Caribbean, but it’s a beautiful thing to hear songs from Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. to Still Crazy After All These Years to Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints to the new So Beautiful and So What with the same writerly voice comfortably positioned in a shifting and expanding sonic landscape.

It is, of course a testament to the band that they kept the dynamics different as the songs shifted tone and shifted into eachother. The tender “Mother and Child Reunion” became the dynamic zydeco of “Rewrite” with a little tempo shift and “Rewrite” also gave everyone a chance to solo and take deserved spotlight turns. The contemplative “Heart and Bones” featured that lost embellishment of American rock music, the saxophone solo (a couple weeks ago, 30Rock made a joke about sax players being put out of work in the modern era, along with travel agents) and I swear to you, cheesy and deadly earnest as it may be, the sax in rock is glorious, graceful thing. Plus, Simon has always walked a line between effectively and cheesily earnest, but last night, he and the band nailed that moment of sweet release.

The second half of the main set continued to feature hits well-placed in between newer songs. Simon moved straight from “The Obvious Child” into “The Only Living Boy in New York” and although the wear on his voice caused him to totally miss the note in the first falsetto shift of “Living Boy”, he pulled it back together and made that gorgeous, goosebump-raising tune about the never-ending search for meaning fill up the room and envelop the crowd. “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” also got roars, obviously and going straight from that into “Gumboots” was a powerful, driven way to close out the show, not that anyone was going to go anywhere for a good long while.

For the first encore, Simon came out solo and stood in the spotlight to deliver a chilling, gorgeous arrangement of “The Sound of Silence”. Sung with a slightly clipped, minor-key bent, the elegiac tune carried a thread of resonance of the protests against Vietnam, malaise, the backlash against cut-throat capitalism and all the way up to the fractured digital age- “all the people bowed and prayed/ to the neon god they made” has a specific irony in the glow of smartphone screens. The song, which pleads for listening, got its wish in the Mainroom as there wasn’t a breath audible in the room until the whoops at the end. Then the band re-joined for a killer four song medley, including a cover of The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun”, such an apropos for a beauty-and-light starved Minnesota winter crowd.

Wrapping it up with a final encore of “Still Crazy After All These Years”, Simon introduced the full band and thanked the audience profusely. The crowd, for their part, resolutely refused to leave, cheering on the little man and his huge music. I had this review half written, closing out with a pun about “still great after all these years,” when I was made aware of the Gimme Noise post griping about the sound quality and calling the show a “monumental pity”. From up in the front, from the room-wide roars for encores and from the fact that there wasn’t a bigger crowd pressing desperately up to the front to hear, it was a wonderful experience personally and I thought for the audience. The concert wasn’t transformational and it didn’t have to be, it felt really well-executed and did justice to the ideal developed through years of listening to the music. Maybe the monumental pity is that Simon doesn’t get to play clubs more often, or that people who only read the Gimme Noise review will use it to shrug off that they missed out, and they did. Maybe the pity, also, is that a reviewer who feels like he isn’t in the best position to hear the music wouldn’t move around to find a better spot. Simon hasn’t stood still in his time here, and neither should we.

Setlist
The Boy in the Bubble
Dazzling Blue
50 Ways to Leave your Lover
So Beautiful or So What
Vietnam
Mother and Child Reunion
That Was Your Mother
Heart and Bones
Mystery Train
Slip Slidin’ Away
Rewrite
Peace Like a River
The Obvious Child
The Only Living Boy in New York
Waiting for Christmas Day
Love is Eternal Sacred Light
Father and Daughter
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
Gumboots

Encore
The Sound of Silence
Kodakchrome
Gone At Last
Here Comes the Sun
Late in the Evening

Encore II
Still Crazy After All These Years

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  1. A Slice of 2011 | Cake In 15 - December 26, 2011

    […] Paul Simon: “Simon hasn’t stood still in his time here, and neither should we.” […]

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