UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- They gathered on a Saturday night at the casino, baby boomers in lines that stretched across the cavernous Mohegan Sun lobby into the slot machine alleys. They came to see Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the 1960s icons on tour for the first time in two decades. And they paid dearly, some as much as $250 for a ticket.
"It's real weird," said Jim Loughery, 48. "I would picture them in a park, maybe Central Park, playing a free concert. Not at a casino where you blow $500 before you even see the show."
Still, Loughery said he was pleased to be here seeing the hottest -- and most expensive -- show of the season.
Simon and Garfunkel have been selling out arenas across the country, grossing $2 million a night. They arrive in Boston this week, playing the FleetCenter on Thursday and Saturday. Though there have been some grumbles, the fans of the tour say that, for the most part, they've grown used to high ticket prices. They pay this much to see Fleetwood Mac, Cher, and Elton John.
"It's a night out and you know you're guaranteed great music," said Jeanie Mascola, 52. "It's not an unknown."
That willingness to pay top dollar, experts say, is why the concert industry remains financially strong as other areas of the music business collapse. It is also why rock concerts, once the entertainment choice of the masses, have become an increasingly exclusive club. Fewer people buy tickets to concerts than five years ago. But those who do go -- members of the boomer set primarily -- are willing to shell out more than ever.
At $106 an average seat, the Simon and Garfunkel tour isn't even the most expensive in rock history. That rank goes to the Rolling Stones, who charged $157 for an average ticket on their recently completed, 116-date "Licks" tour, which grossed almost $300 million. But unlike the Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel have been relatively inactive as a duo since 1970, when their final studio album was released.
"There's something to be said for pent-up demand," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar magazine, which tracks the concert industry.
"Very few people have seen Simon and Garfunkel live ever. And let's face it, at the age Simon and Garfunkel are getting at, you never know how long any of us are going to be around."
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, both 62, were more than pop superstars. Blending Simon's poetic lyrics with Garfunkel's soaring tenor, their best-known songs -- "The Sound of Silence," "Scarborough Fair," "I Am a Rock" -- defined the lonely side of the college-age, hippie generation. At Mohegan Sun, there were knowing chuckles as the screen showed clips of the famous plastics speech in "The Graduate," the 1967 coming-of-age film that featured the duo's "Mrs. Robinson."
The show is a sonic time capsule, opening with a short film that mixes shots of the duo with images of Mickey Mantle and civil rights marches. Over two-plus hours, Simon and Garfunkel perform their best known work, leaving the familiar arrangements intact. Garfunkel hits the memorable high notes late in "Bridge Over Troubled Water." And midway through, the pair bring out their own heroes, the semiretired Everly Brothers, for an unbilled, four-song set. Then they return to their own music.
"This is unbelievable," a woman in the Mohegan Sun balcony screamed after "Homeward Bound."
Just how Simon and Garfunkel feel about the tour remains a mystery. They've stopped doing interviews, and instead turned three decades of tension into onstage shtick. (Simon to audience: "We started singing together at 13, and we started arguing at 14.") They try to create the appearance of newfound harmony, particularly with a climactic, though clearly choreographed, linking of hands near the end of the concert, which is beamed on the overhead screen.
Some fans weren't convinced.
"There's no peace and love on that stage," said Vin Bartiromo, 55, after seeing the show. He and a group of friends were on their way to play the slots. Bartiromo said that he could get past the high ticket price. What mattered most, he said, "is that they sound great."
But that wasn't enough for every fan.
Brian Owens, a 32-year-old from Carmel, New York, posted a complaint on the Art Garfunkel fan website before the show about the cost. He had planned on making the drive to the casino -- until, that is, he clicked to buy tickets online. After seeing what it would cost, he passed.
For that kind of money -- seats behind the stage at the Fleet Center are $50 each -- he would rather stay home and wait for the DVD. "They're supposed to be from the hippie generation, peace and love, and now they're having tickets for $250 at a gambling casino," Owens said by telephone. "It's kind of lost its appeal to me."
He was clearly in the minority. At Mohegan Sun, aging fans reminisced about music even as they tried to unload extra tickets. John Leary, 59, remembered the snowy, winter day in 1965 when he first heard "The Sound of Silence." He was behind the wheel of his Karmann Ghia on the Mass Pike, sad about a recent breakup, and found himself moved by the dark lyrics coming over his AM radio.
That powerful songwriting style is what he said convinced him to pay $540 for a pair of tickets (service charge included). Even at that price, Leary and his wife Patricia, 51, were sitting two rows apart. "Forty years we've listened to the same songs," said Patricia, as she stood next to her husband at the line of ticket windows.
Paula Schiavone, 57, was also thrilled to see the duo, though she didn't pay. She and her husband are big slot machine players, she said, and received VIP tickets from the casino. "I said to my husband, `Look, there are people my age here,' " she said.
Marianne Rose, a 54-year-old registered nurse, came with a date, Jack Bruderman, who said he wasn't at all interested in hearing "Mrs. Robinson" or any of the other hits.
"I didn't like Simon and Garfunkel the first time around. Why would I like them now?" said Bruderman, 65.
Speaking before the show, Bruderman said he planned to head straight to the blackjack tables when the doors opened to the concert hall. That made Rose consider selling her own seat -- it had cost her $225 -- and joining him. But she resisted. When the concert was over, roughly three hours later, Rose left the arena with "Sound of Silence" still buzzing in her head.
Bruderman was somewhere else, trying his luck at the games. But as she walked into the crowded gambling hall, past the pinging machines, Rose had to stop and fix her makeup.
"I never expected that," she said. "I actually wept."
She talked about summers in her home state of Michigan working at the Nip 'n' Sip drive-in. She remembered the slumber parties and sneaking out of her window to meet friends. She thought of her first husband, Doug, and his motorcycle.
Whatever she had to pay, she said, was well worth it. "There hasn't been anything that's brought me back to those days before."
-By Geoff Edgers ([email protected])