Overwhelmingly great songs from one man and his voice
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 06/11/2006
Helen Brown reviews Paul Simon at the SECC in Glasgow
Paul Simon never looked cool. Not even back in the day. Too short, prematurely balding, with a physique running to plump. But on record, he was an archangel.
Small man, big songs: Paul Simon
Over four decades, his world-weary voice asked us to look, with youthful affection, on lampposts. It advised us how to leave our lovers, called us as witnesses in the divorce court, and took us out dancing on the Bayou. It travelled, this voice, and assured us that love and its complications were the same all over the world, just with different beats. Despite its easy way with melody and the messiness of the human condition, it never took on airs. It asked us to call it ´Al´.
Going to see Paul Simon live is to observe the strange phenomenon of that voice emerging from the little, squat-armed guy in the baseball cap. He opens his first Glasgow show in 15 years with a couple of songs from Graceland that nail the paradox: ´You don´t feel you could love me but I feel you could.´
The band chuck their all into the South African rhythm, a bass bounce shakes our feet and the accordionist´s arms stretch out. The corner of Simon´s mouth sidles up to the mic, and that voice is confiding: ´I was having this discussion in a taxi heading downtown.´
The words of the song are fast and familiar - hundreds of mouths make the same wry shapes: ´Hey Senorita, that´s astute, I said, why don´t we get together and call ourselves an institute?´ The Boy in the Bubble is slowed down to a spacewalking speed.
The crowd aren´t familiar with Outrageous from the new album, Surprise, but it passes off OK. Everybody seems to enjoy Father and Daughter rather more. The current single, How Can You Live in the Northeast?, has been, rather desperately, placed on every seat, and it´s one of the weaker moments - especially when the normally modest Simon switches his mic to a mock-messianic setting.
But the audience jig in their seats to Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard and on a lovely Train in the Distance, Simon really seems to settle. He is fascinating to watch. It´s all in the hands. When they´re not busy fluttering over guitar strings, they´re outstretched, twirling, invocational, teasing the notes from the air. He´s unselfconsciously balletic and awkwardly vulnerable by turns. The voice misses the odd falsetto, skidding on take-off before finding a friendly thermal.
The sheer number of great songs is overwhelming. We clap and dance to a jubilant Cecilia and smile in acknowledgement of Still Crazy After All These Years. Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Boxer are ever so subtly rephrased to prevent them turning into maudlin stadium singalongs.
There´s old-school folk narrative on Duncan and Mrs Robinson is given new teeth with a little jagged feedback. In a week when surveillance has been the big topic, there´s added weight on the line: ´We´d like to know a little bit about you for our files.´
As Paul´s punters spill out into the car park, and CCTV cameras follow us in slow motion, I wonder which of his songs they see us humming.