From the San Diego Union Tribune:
Bridging the gap
Paul Simon promises old hits and a new ´Surprise´ on tap Tuesday
By George Varga
UNION-TRIBUNE POP MUSIC CRITIC
September 28, 2006
Music, like life, can be a balancing act, as Paul Simon knows all too well.
Now, on the concluding leg of his first solo tour since 2001, he is mixing in five songs each night from his superb new album “Surprise” with several decades worth of his hits and choice album cuts. The trick is to perform his best-known songs live in a way that keeps them as fresh for him as the more edgy selections from the aptly titled “Surprise,” on which he fruitfully collaborated with ambient-music pioneer Brian Eno.
“I don´t go out and say: ´I won´t play the big hits,´ ” said Simon, who performs here with his multinational band Tuesday at Viejas Concerts at Bayside. “Because if I went out to see some artist who I´ve liked for a long time, I´d want to hear the hits. My feeling is, however, that if the song is a good song, you can play it a lot of ways and it should still be a good song.
“But just because I´m not trying to suck up to an audience doesn´t mean I´m indifferent. I like it to be an entertaining night, I just want it to be interesting. That, for me, is the essence. So, since I´m giving myself what I want – in terms of the musicians I work with and how the songs are played and rethought – I feel like I should give the audience what I´m guessing they want.”
Both as a solo artist and as one-half of Simon & Garfunkel, whose most recent reunion tour played to a full house here at Cox Arena in 2003, this New York native has long been noted for his meticulous craftsmanship and artistic vision.
Simon´s albums, including “Surprise,” are finely honed works that showcase his stylistic versatility, artistic daring and lyrically refined explorations of love, alienation, whimsy and world-weary resignation. Yet, whether he is doing a solo tour or collaborating with on-again/off-again musical partner Art Garfunkel, he regards his concerts as a welcome chance to let his songs grow and evolve. He lovingly reshapes them, without losing touch with their emotional essence.
“I think what goes on in the case of Simon & Garfunkel, or any act whose work was done decades ago, is that there´s an emotional memory of what it sounds like, which may not be a true reflection of what it actually sounds like,” Simon, 64, said last week from the New York home he shares with his wife, singer-songwriter Edie Brickell, and their three kids.
“And I try, with Simon & Garfunkel, to imagine what that emotional memory was and stay true to that. And, for me, it´s two guys and a guitar. ... As long as (we) came back and touched on that, it didn´t matter if (we) changed a song a little, or reharmonized it a little, or took out the words (we) didn´t really feel like singing anymore, for whatever reason.”
Simon´s desire to keep his songs in a constant state of rebirth is a jazz-inspired aesthetic rarely heard in pop music, let alone from someone who has sold tens of millions of albums and scored 28 Top 40 hits (13 on his own, 15 with Simon & Garfunkel).
“It is a jazz aesthetic,” he said. “Except for the fact that the subtleties in my songs get worked out over time, and then they´re not improvisational every night, which would be a true jazz aesthetic.
“My thought about the nuances is they are usually things that help me sing, and help me (achieve) what it feels like to be in a rhythm that´s bobbing along, and it´s liberating. It means I can phrase (songs) differently, I can rethink the story and tell it in a different way.”
Thinking in different ways is precisely what Simon wanted to do by teaming with Eno, who first rose to prominence in the early 1970s as a member of the art-rock band Roxy Music.
Eno, who has produced landmark records by David Bowie, U2 and Talking Heads, co-wrote two of the songs for “Surprise,” on which his main credit is “sonic landscape.” Rhythmically speaking, “Surprise” is atypically straightforward and streamlined compared to Simon´s recent albums. But dig under the surface, and all kinds of aurally subversive treats are waiting to be discovered.
“What´s beneath the surface, however you may define the surface, that´s a crucial part of the songwriting process,” Simon said. “The way the tracks are built, and the shifts in the color and the rhythm, had an affect upon the writing. So, for me, probably more than for almost all listeners, what´s said right beneath the surface is as interesting as what the final layer produces, the final layer being the words.
“Now, if I did it again, I´d probably be inclined to reverse the process, just for the sake of clearing out that way of thinking. ... That would produce another kind of song, or give me a way of keeping the process fresh. And that´s one of the things I´m a little obsessive about. I guess I´m easily bored, so I really try to find a way I can look at the creative process from an angle that is interesting. And it´s interesting because it´s fresh to me. I don´t like doing an imitation of what I do.”
Simon´s commercial heyday with his pioneering “Graceland” album is now two decades behind him. And while he doesn´t plan to tour or record again with Garfunkel (although their friendship is back on track), he does expect to remain a perpetual work in progress.
“I can´t tell who my audience is when I make a record, but I can when I perform,” Simon said. “And what the audience is, that I can see, seems to be divided between an ´upper demographic´ – to use a euphemism – and 20-year-olds. And of the upper demographic, that group seems to be divided.
“There are people who would just like to hear Simon & Garfunkel songs and whatever the most famous hits were, and there´s the other group that´s kind of excited by the fact I´m still making new music. Because that´s their personality type, too, they haven´t yielded to inertia. They like the fact I´m changing, because they´re trying to change, too.”