At the last minute, I added a small packet of tissues to my purse, just in case. After all, the setlist Paul Simon was about to perform in Israel´s Ramat Gan Stadium would not have been much different than the latest shows in his European tour. Since these included songs that were branded deep into my DNA, excitement was at a high level.
Simon will turn 70 in October, and his arrival in Israel seals the trifecta of Jewish super-writers of Pop who came to visit, after Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan graced the very same stage. But something about Simon remains so youthful, that he´s the odd man out, what with his smiling, flexible voice that can still hit the high notes, and enough virtuoso skills on the acoustic guitar to make 20-somethings jealous.
The Zydeco-inflected accordion which opened the show gave the humid Ramat Gan air a whiff of New Orleans. This was the introduction to ´The Boy In The Bubble´, the opening song to ´Graceland´, the album which gave a new lease of life to Simon´s career. In three weeks it will be 25 years since ´Graceland´ was released, and there´s no doubt that Simon is very proud of it: he performed six songs from it, and only five from his latest album, ´So Beautiful Or So What´.
On the third song, the levees broke: it´s hard to listen to the drum intro of ´50 Ways To Leave Your Lover´, one of the best loved pieces for that instrument (performed by Jim Oblon, who ably replaced Steve Gadd) without getting goose bumps. When Simon entered and informed that, ´´The problem is all inside my head´, she said to me´, his voice was so familiar, so pleasant, that one couldn´t resist him, or the tears.
One of Simon´s most pronounced characteristics, throughout his career, is his thirst for new rhythms to help deliver the songs. In his concert this was visible in the Lite-Reggae of ´Mother And Child Reunion´, followed by the Zydeco of ´That Was Your Mother´, culminating in the Brazilian rhythms played by Batucada in ´The Obvious Child´. The musicians were armed with interesting folky instruments, from gourds to a ´rubboard´, a wear-on washboard for the drummer.
When time came for ´The Only Living Boy In New York´, Simon´s gorgeous farewell note to his pal Art Garfunkel, the tears welled up again. The wonderful rendition we got included the musicians as an angelic choir, a cross between The Beach Boys and a church Gospel band, embellishing Simon´s loneliness with heavenly colors.
After two songs from the new album (the upbeat ´The Afterlife´ and the ballad ´Questions For The Angels´), came the hit ´Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes´. Luckily, among the musicians was Bakhiti Kumalo, the original bass player of ´Graceland´, who replayed his role there with skill.
Crowd favorite ´Sound Of Silence´ was served for the encore minimally, just Simon and his guitar, the way it was created. Here was another chance to see him master the arpeggio parts of his classic hit. The tempo rose immediately with ´Kodachrome´, which proved that although the film that give the song its name is obsolete, the song itself is timeless, uplifting and danceable.
As a second encore, Simon gave ´Still Crazy After All These Years´, and let the audience sing the chorus. Luckily, he ended his performance with two crowd pleasers: ´You Can Call Me Al´ (hitting all the right high notes on the way) and ´The Boxer´, whose quite beauty was almost drowned by the applause.
Without any use of pyrotechnics, without the need for high tech screens or special lighting, Simon proved to be in top shape, a man whose career is firmly in the present. Who knows, perhaps when he mentioned, in his Tel Aviv press conference, the chance of performing with Art Garfunkel one last time, it may not be so far fetched to imagine them both returning here.