Paul Simon at the Arena
Nick Bowden (gig: 04/11/06)
It tells the story of Paul Simon´s popularity in a recording career that´s spanned nearly 50 years, as young and old gather in warm expectation, and lights glint off balding heads and sparkle in thousands of pairs of glasses.
Even with his prolific output, the huge level of adulation for a diminutive middle-aged man who looks like he´s just come in from tending the garden is shocking: you´d never expect to see crowd control problems at a Paul Simon concert. But problems there are, as a surge of excitable aficionados lurch forward to stand by the stage at the all-seater event, causing some amusingly polite scuffles between the seated and the standees. Hilarious, but probably less so if you´ve shelled out £45 to have a pair of chinos gyrating spasmodically in your face.
The first tracks are patchy and subject to irksome vocal variations. Perhaps it´s no coincidence that the first two, Gumboots and Boy In The Bubble, are from Simon´s massively successful Graceland. Throughout the set, it´s songs from this that are both rapturously received and yet irritatingly tweaked by Simon´s erratic rhythm. It doesn´t seem to affect the massive crowd´s loyalty though.
It´s his other stuff, especially from the new album and from his Simon and Garfunkel heyday that gets Simon´s best attention. His backing band provides a richly accomplished, although over indulgent, array of music.
The big sound of a triumphant Cecilia and the haunting, timeless Bridge Over Troubled Water are enhanced by the backing musicians, but the most special moments of the night are when Simon plays solo, equipped with only an acoustic guitar, as demonstrated on a mellow The Only Living Boy In New York.
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes finishes the set, although it´s a slightly perfunctory performance, burdened with the sense that Simon is performing a cover of his own material.
In any case, a whopping three encores follow, including a captivating Still Crazy After All These Years and a vibrant You Can Call Me Al, including that infamous bass solo (twice, in case you missed the first). The Boxer packs a punch too, followed by a fitting Homeward Bound, a showcase of Simon´s mellow New York intonation and the power of a single acoustic guitar.