First of all, I´ve seen quite a few shows at the Showbox, and this was by far the most electric vibe I´ve ever encountered there. People were thrilled to be at such an intimate Paul Simon show, and the mood was of palpable excitement. The band was in fine form, and, with the exception of some high-frequency feedback issues during ´Here Comes the Sun´ (most noticeably), the sound was excellent. Paul sang and played beautifully, his voice sounding as strong and clear to me as it did on the You´re the One tour. It is truly a marvel how little his vocal powers have diminished with age. The Seattle Times´ review of Friday´s show mentioned some vocal pitch problems; this was not the case Sunday, I assure you. His singing was confident, strong, spot-on with the pitch, dramatic and engaging from the first song to the last. The sound engineer had the harmony vocals dialed in just right, and on moments of group harmony (´Diamonds´ and ´Dazzling Blue´ come to mind) the ensemble vocal sound was tremendous.
The new drummer and keyboardist were fine additions, although replacing Steve Gadd is not exactly possible. Mark Stewart remains amazing, and seemed to have an endless supply of tricks in his bag: guitars, singing, saxophone (!), you name it. He was visibly guiding the band in many places, signaling changes, transitions, endings, etc., and it was clear how critical his role is in the group.
Paul said little, usually introducing the new songs by name only. He mentioned how nice it was to be playing in a club, or something to that effect, but no real speaking at length or stories, other than to note that there were 251 days till Christmas before ´Getting Ready...´. At the end of the night he delivered a very casual and happy introduction of the band, member by member, and then that was it.
This is my recollection of the setlist. Even if the sequence is slightly misremembered, all the songs played are accurate.
´Slip Sliding Away´ and ´Only Living Boy´ were not played, but they were replaced by a few more songs. ´Boy in the Bubble´ was a spectacular opener, very much appreciated by the crowd and perfectly in sync with the mood in the venue. I think sometimes we´ve got to remember when looking at these lists on a computer screen that you have to take into consideration how the song actually works there in the room. Going in, I was more excited to hear ´Crazy Love´ myself, but ´Bubble´ was much better first and ´Crazy Love´ was perfect where it was played in the set. For those already aware that ´Crazy´ had opened Friday´s show, the intro to ´Boy in the Bubble´ communicated that this show would be different.
Another brief word regarding some popular setlist complaints: You wouldn´t think people would still respond so strongly to lighter stuff like ´50 Ways´, which I´m not personally thrilled to see on setlists, but it served a very important function at the show and people loved it. I´ve seen folks here complain about ´Diamonds on the Soles...´ always being in the set. Let me tell you, if I had a song that provoked the reaction from a crowd that ´Diamonds´ did last night, it would never leave the list. In a night full of strong reactions to songs, this one was overwhelming. The surprise retirement (if temporary) of such warhorses as ´Graceland´, ´Julio´, ´Call Me Al´, ´Bridge´, and pretty much all S&G material made the night a real treat for die hard fans, even with some big hits still on the list. Okay, setlist rant over- on to the show!
Highlights were many:
Hearing ´Hearts and Bones´ live was worth the price of admission alone. The new arrangement features Paul and Mark (who plays the small nylon-string instrument used on ´Father and Daughter´) sharing the guitar lines in a really complementary way, and ´Mystery Train´/´Wheels´ (which is what I´ve heard this twangy instrumental showcase for Mark Stewart´s chicken pickin´ skills called) emerge from the ending in a medley. The other medley of the night that was a great surprise to me was the way ´Gone at Last´ came out of ´Kodachrome´, becoming much more guitar-driven (slightly different chords, even).
´The Obvious Child´ was great done with a smaller group, and one wondered why it has stayed out of the setlist so long. This was a particular crowd favorite- the horns at the end had people going nuts.
´Crazy Love´ was outstanding, and Mark has a new ascending chromatic guitar line that really takes the current arrangement over the top. Easily one of my favorite songs of the night.
The new material was excellent live, with ´So Beautiful´, to my ears, maturing the most from the recorded version. There was something about the way the riff was layered by the band that was really cool. ´Christmas Day´- which I´ll admit to not particularly loving yet- was interesting live, with Paul asking the soundman to turn up the recorded sermon and speaking along key lines with it. He kept a harmonica handy on a platform on his mic stand, and in addition to playing perfectly competent blues harp on ´Love is Eternal...´, he took it out for a test drive during the last verse of ´Boy in the Bubble´. ´Love is Eternal...´, an obvious standout on the new record, was killer live, and the low ´God´ vocal bit in the middle came off beautifully.
I never thought I´d hear ´Peace Like a River´ live, but it was worth the wait. The arrangement is great, and Paul´s guitar playing sounded wonderful.
I never saw an official setlist, but it looked like ´Here Comes the Sun´ was probably not on it, as Mark seemed to ask Paul if he would do it, which Paul agreed to.
I was sort of surprised that the solo acoustic S&G song was the same both nights (´Sound of Silence´), and was hoping he might switch it up. But I think there´s a functional reason for it: having the capo on the third fret allows him to go right into the current arrangement of ´Kodachrome´ seamlessly, without switching guitars. If that´s the case, you might expect ´Homeward Bound´ to find its way into that slot eventually. Who knows? Just a guess on my part.
It would be easy to go on with the superlatives...it was just an all-around fantastic show.
The only ´lowlight´ I could single out, other than the aforementioned sound issues (which weren´t horrible, by any measure) is that ´Love and Hard Times´ was ruined by a chatty crowd. It was just Paul, cello, and piano, and it was too soft for the hyped up throng. I could be rude and say people wouldn´t shut up, or I could be kind and say Paul had them too excited to be quiet, but you get what I´m saying! If the room had been silent it would have been one of the high points of the night, musically. So it goes.
I could pick nits and complain about no Surprise or You´re the One (or Rhythm of the Saints, other than ´Obvious Child´) songs, but to do so would be both ridiculous and ungrateful. It was a magical set, and an unforgettable event. To anyone on the fence about whether or not to attend one of these smaller gigs- do not hesitate. I´ve seen Paul a handful of times, and this was the best, no question. As I mentioned above, there´s way more to it than just the setlist. And, if I had to hazard a guess, I would expect the difference between Night 1 and Night 2 to increase as the tour goes on and the band feels more confident experimenting a bit. I doubt these are all the surprises in store.
I hope this was interesting to at least a few of you, and I hope everyone gets a chance to see Paul on this tour!
By JO ANN RIGGS
It was a true Kodachrome moment.
Paul Simon, who´d played WaMu Theater in Seattle on April 15, debuted the club portion of his new U.S. tour here Sunday night, April 17, at the Showbox at the Market.
This was in many ways a snapshot of an earlier time, when the not-yet-headinin´ Simon haunted the ´60s Greenwich Village folk venues with his childhood pal, Art Garfunkel.
Simon may no longer have the club thing down pat, as he mostly echoed the sound of silence between songs (´So far, so good,´ he noted on his 17tth song, ´Love Is Eternal Sacred Light´) and only once stepped away from his great eight-man band (for, yes, ´Sounds of Silence´).
But the relaxed setting allowed him to give free reign to song selection, starting with ´The Boy in the Bubble´ (´These are the days of miracle and wonder´) and concluding, 25 songs and just over two hours later, with ´Still Crazy After All These Years.´
Still vital after all these years, Simon also found time for covers of ´Here Comes the Sun´ (a time of miracle and wonder in Seattle these days), the five-guitars-strumming ´Mystery Train´ (the Elvis Presley version is most famous) and Jimmy Cliff´s ´Viet Nam.´
Jamaican Cliff´s mix of pop music and African influences was echoed in Simon´s music, whether on ´Crazy Love, Vol. II,´ which featured his trademark staccato vocals, or the amazing, dance-inducing ´Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.´