Vincent Nguini - Guitar
Bakithi Kumalo - Bass
Steve Gadd - Drums
Mark Stewart - Guitars, Cello, Saxophone, selfmade instruments
Tony Cedras - Accordeon, Keyboard, Guitars
Andy Snitzer - Saxophone, Synthesizer
Jay Ashby - Trombone, Percussion
Jamey Haddad - Percussion
Alain Mallet - Keyboard, Accordion
Steve Shehan - Percussion
Evan Ziporyn - Clarinet, Saxophone
Harper Simon - Guitar
As it was, the first of two sold-out concerts at the venerable Chicago landmark this past weekend showcased a lifetime´s worth of work for the Rock ´n´ Roll Hall of Famer.
In a sprawling, nearly non-stop performance that stretched toward 21⁄2 hours, Simon touched all the bases, offering up ´60s classics such as ´I Am a Rock´ and ´Mrs. Robinson´ on through his ´70s and early ´80s solo hits, such as ´Kodachrome´ and ´Late in the Evening.´ There was still plenty of time for a visit to ´Graceland´ and a liberal sprinkling of tunes from ´You´re the One,´ his most recent album after a lengthy hiatus. (WTTW-TV ((Channel 11)) will air Simon´s Paris concert from this tour on Sunday at 8:15 p.m.)
At his core, Simon is a storyteller, and after nearly 40 years in the business, the 59-year-old has mastered the art. Opening with the first track of his new CD, ´That´s Where I Belong,´ Simon pulled the audience along with his simple phrasings and pared down arrangements, while embracing his minstrel roots: ´Somewhere in a burst of glory/sound becomes a song/I´m bound to tell a story/that´s where I belong.´ Launching immediately into the bouncy rhythms of ´Graceland,´ and then a bluesy ´One Man´s Ceiling is Another Man´s Floor,´ Simon set the pattern for the evening. He was saying, in essence, ´Give my new material your full attention, and I´ll play nearly everything you want to hear.´
Simon also knows how to set the tempo (perhaps an allowance to his aging audience), following sweet ballads with foot-tapping singalongs and raucous roof-raisers before settling back into some introspective numbers. He offered an a capella opening to a jazzy ´Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes´ and then brought the crowd to its feet by segueing quickly into a jaunty, horn-heavy rendition of ´You Can Call Me Al.´
Dressed simply in black jeans and T-shirt with a red baseball cap, Simon then took center stage with his acoustic guitar and a cello accompaniment for the haunting ´Old Friends.´ Then he revved up the audience again with ´Homeward Bound´ and ´I Am a Rock,´ the latter song now transformed from plaintive ballad to anthemic rocker.
Though he was backed by an 11-piece band that featured more eye-blasting chrome and brass than the cab of a new semi-truck, Simon put the pedal to the metal sparingly. Among his newer material, ´Darling Lorraine,´ a typically Simon take on family and mortality, was especially poignant and low-key.
Saving the best for last, Simon kept the appreciative crowd on its feet through three encores that included ´Kodachrome,´ ´Still Crazy After All These Years´ and ´Mrs. Robinson,´ with the audience chipping in with all those doo-doo-doos. Even after a sterling rendition of the ´The Boxer,´ Simon seemed reluctant to call it a night, bowing to the crowd with hands clasped together and pressed to his lips while he moved slowly off stage for the final time, the applause still ringing in his ears.