Stockton Record (c)
Simon and Garfunkel took the stage Tuesday night at San Jose´s HP Pavilion in much the same way they did in the 1960s, Simon carrying an acoustic guitar under his arm, the spotlight illuminating Garfunkel´s corona of hair.
And, as in their heyday, Simon and Garfunkel began their performance with the most elemental ingredients -- two voices and one guitar, on which Simon picked out the simple chord progression that carries the melody to ´Old Friends.´
Why, then, was the moment so rapturous for so many in the sold-out arena? Why was the song punctuated at one point by an unbridled ´Yeah!´ Why had thousands spent hundreds for the privilege of seeing two 62-year-old men harmonize?
Any number of answers presented themselves as the evening unfolded. There is the enduring quality of the Simon songbook, a canon overflowing with evocative lyrics, thoughtful insights, well-turned phrases and catchy pop hooks. There is nostalgia, too, an undeniably powerful force in the lives of the 40-and-older audience.
But, as with the best art -- and, dare one say, best relationships -- a reasoned, rational examination of Simon and Garfunkel´s enduring popularity only gets you so far. The true answer lies, no doubt, in the intangibles, in the wondrous alchemy that occurs when these men blend not only their voices but their personalities. To see Paul Simon in concert is to treat yourself to an evening with one of the most gifted artists rock ´n´ roll has ever produced; to see with him Art Garfunkel is to somehow transcend even that lofty height.
The duo´s current tour -- their first extended outing since 1982-83 and only the second since splitting a decade earlier -- moves tonight to Oakland Arena.
Simon and Garfunkel´s Northern California swing concludes Wednesday with a date at Sacramento´s Arco Arena. Simon and Garfunkel have dubbed their tour Old Friends, and the passing years certainly showed in their faces and frames. Clad in T-shirt and jeans, Simon made no attempt to obscure his rapidly disappearing hairline. While still lean, Garfunkel eschewed his trademark vest Tuesday for a white shirt left untucked.
In the end, the duo´s physical appearance only seemed to emphasize that while Simon and Garfunkel are mortal, their music remains timeless. The pair sang more than 20 Simon songs in their two hours on stage, sprinkling some comparatively obscure nuggets (´At the Zoo,´ ´Baby Driver´), amid their greatest hits (´Sounds Of Silence,´ ´Mrs. Robinson´) and solo selections the composer always considered Simon and Garfunkel tunes waiting to happen (´Slip Slidin´ Away,´ ´American Tune´).
After opening with a brief video that placed the act in the proper baby-boom context, the concert´s format bounced back and forth between Simon and Garfunkel alone, the duo bathed in a warm spotlight, and playing with a seven-piece band, a group of crack musicians whose lineup included legendary drummer Jim Keltner.
So it was that after ´Old Friends´ segued into ´Bookends,´ the lights dipped for a moment before the musicians ripped into a fairly edgy take on ´A Hazy Shade of Winter.´ Nearly all the songs Simon and Garfunkel performed with the band sported an arrangement at least slightly different from that of the original recording. For ´I Am A Rock,´ the heavy beat took an on even greater weight; for ´The Sounds of Silence,´ the duo dropped the folk-rock dynamics for a slower, more dramatic reading.
It can be argued, of course, that few if any in attendance were particularly mindful of the arrangements. People come to hear Simon and Garfunkel sing and, while age has certainly diminished the duo´s upper registers, both men are still quite capable of getting the job done. Indeed, there were moments when their harmonies really hit home, such as when they reached the line ´And we walked off to look for America´ in ´America´ and on the chorus of ´Scarborough Fair.´
There was also time for humor and for Simon and Garfunkel to express what the reunion means to them. Garfunkel took the lead in the latter. ´Good evening, our dear friends in San Jose,´ he said early on. ´I´m in such a good mood tonight. It took us years to get to this together, but I couldn´t be more thrilled to be here in front of you.´
Later, Garfunkel added that he and Simon met in school in 1953. ´We go back to the sixth grade, Paul and I,´ he said. ´With a few years´ interruption, it´s been a 50-year friendship.´
Simon then somewhat sardonically introduced the duo´s first recording, the minor 1957 hit ´Hey Schoolgirl.´ The song, Simon said, was he and Artie trying to sound like the Everly Brothers. At which point, who should emerge from backstage but Phil and Don Everly themselves.
It was a generous gesture on Simon and Garfunkel´s part to include their original heroes on the reunion tour. The siblings performed a mini-set of their own (´Wake Up Little Susie,´ ´All I Have To Do Is Dream,´ ´Let It Be Me´) before Simon and Garfunkel returned for ´Bye Bye Love.´
Simon and Garfunkel´s version appears on 1970´s ´Bridge Over Troubled Water,´ the duo´s final and top-selling album. Nearly every song from the disc was reproduced in concert, not only smashes like the title track (Garfunkel can still hit those high notes) and ´El Condor Pasa´ (which pointed toward the world music Simon would explore as a solo artist) but lesser-known gems, most notably ´The Only Living Boy in New York´ (which came complete with Simon explaining the song´s origins).
Simon and Garfunkel left the stage after 90 minutes before returning for an encore of ´Cecilia´ and ´The Boxer,´ the latter shorn of the extra verse Simon has performed in concert over the years. A second encore brought the pair back for an acoustic ´Leaves That Are Green´ (´The last time we did this in concert was 1967,´ Simon said) and a rousing band rendition of ´The 59th Street Bridge Song´ that did indeed leave the audience feeling groovy.
And why not? All they had been treated to over the previous two hours was two talented singers backed by a group of deft musicians performing some of most durable pop songs ever written.
Overhearing conversations on the way out of arena, however, it became clear that there was more at work. Simon and Garfunkel are old friends, yes, but not just to each other. They fill that role, too, for many of their fans, the duo´s voices and lives having interacted with their own for so long.
It is in that concept, one suspects, that you will find the ultimate answer to Simon and Garfunkel´s popularity. For die-hard fans, the songs and the men bookend their lives.