Cleveland....The Plain Dealer 7/1/06
Simon´s still splendid after all these years
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Special to The Plain Dealer
When Paul Simon casts about for inspiration, he generally doesn´t look to current pop trends. Thanks to that we´ve been spared the Paul Simon disco album, the Paul Simon techno album, the Paul Simon electronica album, or even Paul Simon Sings the Great American Songbook - after all, what´s the point in singing classics when you´ve spent five decades writing your own?
None of that´s to say Simon, 64, hasn´t kept creative, relevant and exciting throughout his nearly 50-year career as songwriter, duo half and solo artist, as was generously evident Thursday night at The Plain Dealer Pavilion in Cleveland´s Flats.
On his new album, ´Surprise,´ co-produced by Brian Eno, Simon´s songwriting remains taut, polished and unpretentious, with nary a wasted word and 99 percent cliche-free, which makes it all the more remarkable that he begins writing with a rhythm and ends with the lyrics.
The new material provided four of the night´s 20 songs, with ´How Can You Live in the Northeast?´ one of its highlights. The song weaves an increasingly knotty and exotic melody around words expressing the failure of our empathetic imagination, and Simon´s seven-piece band performed it with real passion. He matched the new songs with an equal number of Simon & Garfunkel tunes, reaching back to 1968´s ´Mrs. Robinson´ and picking three from the ´Bridge Over Troubled Water´ album. But Simon devoted a larger portion of the night to ´Graceland,´ performing a half dozen songs from the 1986 album that signaled his commercial comeback.
Outfitted in worn jeans and a light jacket over a T-shirt, Simon was loose and relaxed from the get-go. Unlike his various reunions with his former partner, Simon was not obligated to put on a show and, perhaps consequently, he put on a great show.
Never a protest singer, Simon kept his political references oblique, but it was hard not to sense some world-weariness beneath what is mostly joyous-sounding music. And despite how Simon likes to purposely undermine his poetry with purely prosaic touches, as when he sings ´I don´t pretend I´m a mastermind with a genius marketing plan´ on ´Wartime Prayers,´ he chose to close the show with that song. It ends with an image of a mother holding her babies close at bedtime.
´To drive away despair,´ he sang just before the lights went up, ´she says a wartime prayer.´
Hagan is a free-lance writer in Cleveland.
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