Beforehand tickets were being offered for $50 and afterwards a packed Albert Hall endlessly applauded an empty stage exit, so. when, in between Simon and Garfunkel sang some 20 songs using only two voices and a guitar there must have been something special about it. There was. ·Paul Simon is a fine songwriter, performing his songs without frills and that is almost unique in today´s pop scene, where words have become loud and insignificant, a smokescreen before an instrumental battle.
There was a time when his songs tended to sound like poetry soldered willy nilly to music but gradually he has learnt the secret of copying the irregular but natural cadences of human speech so that now his best songs are full of loose ends and displaced phrases without which they would not flow half so easily. The words too have become less abstract, less weighty and much tougher, all of which is a cumbrous way of saying that his music is beautifully distilled talking, one of the most difficult things to manage.
Equally heroically he has resisted the gross temptation to dress it up in orchestral costume - all it needs and gets is Garfunkel´s high, immensely characterful Singing, his own plain voice as a second line and his sharply varying guitar accompaniment. They added the original pianist just for ´Bridge Over Troubled Water´, that unaccountable triumph of simplicity over theatrical schmaltz, but for social documents like ´The Boxer´, love songs like ´Kathy´s Song´ and unclassifiable pieces like ´So Long Frank Lloyd Wright ´ their light wiry approach did all that was wanted. Their concert was very much like their records, but even better because all the fat was trimmed off.
Some people hate Simon and Garfunkel because their music has no guts, because it is a middle class look at life, because it slips too easily from idiom to idiom, but even if these things were more than half true, it would not matter. Creative flow has to be accepted on its own terms - it is mad to throw out Evelvn Waugh´s novels for his political views - and there are very few Paul Simons´ around. My one criticism on Saturday was that they badly mismanaged their encores: there is no sight more depressing than squads of dumpy girls half heartedly invading a stage.