The neck of my Guitar
Paul Simon delivers in sold-out sho Montreal Gazette

Paul Simon delivers in sold-out show

Bernard Perusse
Montreal Gazette

Thursday, July 06, 2006

At a hastily-assembled backstage ceremony after his sold-out show at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier of Place des Arts last night, Paul Simon accepted the first Montreal Jazz Festival Spirit award. ´OK. So I´m not jazz, but I am spirit,´ the singer-songwriter quipped.

A throwaway line, perhaps, but it could have worked as a sly reference to a stellar back catalogue that has been impossible to put a name on. Paul Simon is not a folk singer, nor is he a rocker or a purveyor of worldbeat. He´s all of those things - at times less, at times more. But the sound is always pure Paul Simon, a man whose rich body of work was celebrated by a mix of local and international stars at Tuesday night´s free festival blowout and generously sampled by the singer himself last night.

The last word he sang - that is, before the five encores - was ´jubilation,´ from his Simon and Garfunkel-era hit Cecilia. Again, no doubt unintentional - or is anything every really unintentional with a notorious overthinker like Simon? - but highly appropriate. There might have been a good 80,000 fewer people at last night´s show to take the ´Call meeeeeeeee Al´ line than there were around the GM stage Tuesday, but they made up in volume what they lacked in mass.

And how else could it have played out? For starters, the concert hall, which Simon praised backstage, delivered far crisper sound than usual last night. The sparkling acoustics were immediately evident in the thunderous double drumming of Steve Gadd and Robin DiMaggio, which worked marvels on the rockin´ one-two punch that opened the show: Gumboots and The Boy in the Bubble. But the presence of two men behind the skins was anything but overkill. They added sparkle even in softer numbers like the sweet-and-easy shuffle of Slip Slidin´ Away, one of the cheeriest-sounding depression anthems ever written.

Throughout the show, Simon took subtle, but satisfying, liberties with his phrasing, as when he half-talked and spat out lines in Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard. In Mrs. Robinson, he barked ´Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes,´ as an order.

Try as one might during that 60s anthem, it was impossible not to sing Artie´s phantom harmony in your mind, but when Simon switched from acoustic to electric guitar in mid-song and slammed out a Bo Diddley beat, all was forgiven. Similarly, Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes, slightly rearranged with a rocksteady beat, and a hand-clapping Loves Me Like a Rock didn´t exactly make one forget Ladysmith Black Mambazo or the Dixie Hummingbirds, but they compensated with exactly the right feel. Guitarists Mark Stewart and Vincent Nguini deserve much of the praise for that.

If there were lulls in last night´s set list, they came with three songs from Simon´s recent disc, the disappointing Surprise. In future years, it´s hard to imagine any of that album´s songs staying on the set list. Simon ended the first set of encores with The Boxer and the second with Bridge Over Troubled Water, both written when he was in his 20s. There was a special poignancy to the fact that, at 64, he´s still singing about survival and devotion.

© Montreal Gazette 2006

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