Still Groovy After All These Years
Posted April 26, 2008 by John Platt
Paul Simon wraps up his amazing three-week residency at BAM this weekend - and what a trip it´s been! The first week of April was devoted to ´Songs from The Capeman,´¯ the second featured songs from Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints in ´Under African Skies, and this past week has been a sampler of everything else, titled ´American Tunes.´¯
The 22 songs performed in the 2 1/2 hour show leaned heavily on the 60s and 70s Simon, with 7 from the Simon & Garfunkel catalogue and 9 from from Paul Simon, There Goes Rhymin´ Simon, and Still Crazy After All These Years. There were only 4 songs from the 80s, none from the 90s, and just 2 from this decade (off his latest CD, Surprise). Paul himself performed only 9 songs, leaving the rest to a diverse lineup of guest stars. Which proves that it wasn´t Paul who was the star, but the songs. And what a joy to hear them in the gorgeous acoustics of BAM, instead of Madison Square Garden or Central Park.
The Roches kicked off the festivities, appropriately enough, with ´American Tune,´¯ filtered through their trademark harmonies. Then, establishing a pattern for the evening, they inserted a lesser known song (´¯Another Galaxy´¯ from Surprise) in the middle, before closing their triptych of songs with an old fave, ´Cecelia. ´¯ With Paul´s band backing them and Maggie busting out in an elbow-flailing dance, it was pure jubilation.
At this point, Paul solemnly strolled onstage to a standing ovation and gave us ´50 Ways to Leave Your Lover´¯ and ´Mrs. Robinson.´¯ Nice tight versions, but with no harmonies on the choruses, there was no urge to sing along. Then, just as quickly, he was gone, ceding the stage to the young Brooklyn group, Grizzly Bear. They did ´Graceland,´¯ which has been part of their repertoire, then a dirge-like ´Mother and Child Reunion.´¯ It was a little disconcerting, but, hey, the lyrics are about a ´strange and mournful day,´¯ and one of the fascinating things about tribute concerts is hearing familiar songs reinvented.
Olu Dara defintely did that, with infectiously funkified versions of ´Slip Sliiding Away´¯ and ´Still Crazy After All These Years.´¯ Josh Groban was up next, and though I´ve never been a fan of his, he was a real highlight of the evening. First he did a solo piano rendition of ´America´¯ (with the accompaniment sounding just like ´Piano Man´¯), then, backed by Paul´s band and an ensemble of exotic instruments, ´Silent Eyes,´¯ from Still Crazy. Paul returned to the stage for a duet with Josh on ´Bridge Over Troubled Water,´¯ which was stunning (in part, because Josh can hit high notes that Art Garfunkel can only dream about these days) and earned a well-deserved standing ovation.
Amos Lee had the unenviable task of following that, but he offered a palate-cleansing solo guitar version of ´Peace Like a River,´¯ followed by ´Nobody´¯ (from One Trick Pony) and ´Homeward Bound,´¯ which got a very warm reception. Nice job, Amos, but the best was yet to come, with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Their first offering was ´Gone At Last,´¯ which they transferred from black gospel to white, from the church to the Grand Ole Opry - yet it was still a hand-clapping thrill. Before their next number, Gillian said, ´I told Paul if I don´t get to sing this, I´ll cry. It´s a sad song in a minor king - kind of my thing.´¯ The song? ´Duncan´¯ from Paul Simon. Paul (just on guitar) and the band joined them for ´The Boxer,´¯ then Gillian, David, and Paul did a breathtaking trio arrangement of ´The Sound of Silence,´¯ which took took the song back to its acoustic origins and got a standing ovation.
That left it to Paul and the band to bring it on home with ´Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard´¯ (´¯I wrote this when I was 9,´¯ Paul quipped), ´Train in the Distance,´¯ and ´How Can You Live in the Northeast?´¯ (from Surprise). Another standing ovation, as Paul and the band took their bows and left the stage. They returned for two encores - ´¯The Only Living Boy in New York´¯ (with The Roches) and a killer version of ´Late in the Evening,´¯ which had folks on their feet and dancing. Even if the concert overall wasn´t as galvanizing in a visceral way as ´Under African Skies,´¯ it was still mighty compelling and made the case that Paul has as much claim as anyone to authorship of The Great American Songbook.