It was truly a wonderful evening at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon tonight. With the coliseum filled up to the rafters, I´ll do my best to give my perspective of the concert seen from the first row of the stands directly to the right of the stage (we were right at stage level with a profile view of the performers the entire time). I´ll quickly describe my take on the individual songs first and then my general comments afterwards.
Although tickets were marked 7:30, when we arrived the sign said the concert was to begin at 8:00. Sure enough, at 8:05, the house lights suddenly dimmed and the strobe lights began as Bob Dylan and his four-piece band took the stage and the concert was underway. I was unfamiliar with a number of Dylan´s songs (since my music collection only includes the Biograph box set and the first greatest hits album) so I won´t offer a review of his set.
After Dylan´s encore pieces, he exclaimed, ´One of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century, Paul Simon!´ To be honest, I thought their duets were underwhelming. They started with ´Sound of Silence´ and it was very clear each was very conscious of trying to upstage the other´s vocal style. It was the first time all evening Dylan enunciated any of the lyrics, though! They followed it with ´I Walk the Line´, ´Blue Moon of Kentucky´, and ´Knocking on Heaven´s Door´, with nothing too notable about any of them I didn´t think. Dylan´s band was already on stage and they provided the accompaniment for the duets.
After an extended intermission of nearly half an hour, the impressive array of percussion instruments was set up for Paul Simon´s set and the lights once again dimmed. Almost from the moment he stepped on stage, Paul was greeted with a more enthusiastic response from the audience. The applause greeted him warmly as the percussionist pulled a bow across a bell to begin a distinctive arrangement of ´Bridge Over Troubled Water´. A single cello drew out the bass of each chord as the percussion offered a fairly laid-back gentle shuffle behind Paul´s easy vocals. I´d heard that his voice had declined over the years but my fears were immediately dispelled upon hearing him effortlessly float through ´Bridge´.
Next up was ´Can´t Run But´. A slightly more ´raw´ feel to the vocals than on the album, but otherwise quite similar to the Rhythm of the Saints arrangement.
The final note of ´Can´t Run But´ coincided with the first chord pressed out on the accordion for ´Boy in the Bubble´. With the crowd clapping along, Paul let go of the guitar at times to gesture the ´staccato signals of constant information´, ´the long-distance call´, etc. Bakithi Kumalo played a few bars of a mean bass solo before Vincent Nguini dug into a fierce electric guitar solo. Then the superior acoustics of the Rose Garden really shone as the percussion began the jam familiar from the Concert in the Park and the Born at the Right Time tour arrangement, since each beat was crystal clear.
After allowing the applause to die down a bit, Paul introduced the percussionists and then prefaced the next song, ´This song is called ´The Coast´ and it´s from the Rhythm of the Saints album.´ Again, the performance was similar to the recorded version on the album, with the exception of a few bars at the end when the horns broke out into a bit of Dixieland fun.
He continued with the more mellow songs as he started the intro to ´Trailways Bus´ and told us, ´This is a song from ´The Capeman´. It´s called ´Trailways Bus´´. I was surprised by the loud applause after he said it was from ´The Capeman´, so it seemed most people were familiar with it. I kept expecting a woman´s voice to start singing (to cover Sara Ramirez´s vocals), but Paul of course sang the entire thing. A great addition to the arrangement was the single trumpet sweetly singing behind Paul´s vocals and featured in solos between verses.
´Mrs. Robinson´ was next on the set with the expected crowd response after the mention of Joe DiMaggio. Otherwise, nothing too notable about the arrangement.
The crowd was starting to get into it with ´Mrs. Robinson´ but Paul really brought people to their feet with ´Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.´ The whistle part was played on recorder as Paul enthusiastically belted out the vocals. It was missing the talking drum at the end that I´m fond of in the Concert in the Park recording, but still a lot of fun.
Slowing down a bit, Paul introduced the next song, ´A song from the Rhythm of the Saints album, ´Further to Fly´.´ It benefited from a wonderfully sublime muted trumpet solo.
The snare snapped out the beat to begin ´Graceland´ to another big response from the crowd. The appreciation from the audience was obvious and Paul looked like he was truly enjoying himself up on stage as he sang.
After introducing more of the musicians, Paul began an incredibly expressive ´The Cool, Cool River.´ Each word was carefully caressed as if he was consciously dwelling on each word in his mind for a moment, contemplating the meaning he was hoping to convey rather than just going into autopilot. The driving arrangement backing up Paul´s vocals opened up and became much broader than the Concert in the Park version during the ´send their battered dreams to heaven´ portion and then returned to the driving, pressing feel before climaxing with those sweet screaming trumpets.
Before the crowd even had a chance to calm down from the excitement and applause, Paul started the first line of ´Slip Sliding Away´ unaccompanied before the band joined in. If Paul´s voice has lost anything over the years, he didn´t let on to it during the falsetto part, since he floated effortlessly through it.
The beginning to ´Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes´ just wasn´t the same without Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but that was soon forgotten about as the song was underway. Paul even had a moment of humor with the crowd, pulling on an imaginary train whistle during the ´whoo whoo´ part. And the percussion free-for-all at the end was simply outstanding. The talking drum I had missed earlier suddenly showed up, along with several other percussion parts that were slightly different from previous recordings.
The crowd was already on its feet, but soon was jumping and dancing as ´You Can Call Me Al´ began. Paul was nearly exuberant in his vocals and the crowd responded, enthusiastically joining in on singing ´call me Al´. The horns weren´t quite as pronounced as on the recordings, but hearing Kumalo tear into the infamous ´backwards´ bass solo in person was a treat! After the song, Paul was extremely gracious, coming to the front of the stage and shaking hands with fans before returning to the microphone and thanking the audience and then leaving the stage for the first time. The crowd wasn´t going to take their encore for granted, and just about brought the house down with the applause.
The band returned to the stage and launched into ´Late Into the Evening´ with the crowd soaking it up and on their feet dancing the entire time. He added a couple lines that he chanted toward the end, concluding with, ´We are here to enjoy life!´ The crowd response made it obvious we were enjoying life tonight! Paul introduced the final few members of the band including Chris Botti who received extra applause when Paul said he was from Portland.
For the second encore piece, they switched from rocking to the intimate feel of ´Still Crazy After All These Years,´ complete with the soulful sax solo. The crowd response was phenomenal, and Paul was obviously grateful for their enthusiasm. ´Thank you so very much. I appreciate it, I really do,´ he told us before leaving the stage yet again. A few people made a motion toward the door, but the crowd wasn´t going to let him go back to the hotel quite yet!
He returned to the stage while the band stayed on the perimeter. Paul picked up his guitar and began ´The Boxer´, gently picking out the pattern on his guitar so softly it was almost more for his own benefit than to really be heard. As he sang the first verse, a few of the band members picked up their instruments and added their support, being careful not to take anything away from Paul´s vocals since this was obviously his moment. ´Thanks for staying so late! Thank you so much. Have a safe trip home.´ The crowd was working on getting a third encore but the house lights came up and the truly amazing evening was over.
As general comments, first of all, Paul looked great. He´s lost some weight and really was looking much younger than the 57 he is. It was even more striking compared to Dylan who it appeared to me looked worse than the recent pictures I´ve seen of him. Likewise, his voice sounded excellent, especially considering it´s been so long since he´s toured or even taken the stage! Throughout the entire evening, he looked like he was tremendously excited to be back on stage again. His performance was impassioned from the opening note and the I can´t overstate how responsive the crowd was. The acoustics in the Rose Garden were excellent, benefiting Paul´s set especially. The acoustics were extremely ´live´, providing a slight echo and emphasizing the treble sounds. While it tended to muddy the sound of Dylan´s electric guitars when he really tried to rock, it made the percussion of Paul´s set especially brilliant and the horns were crystal clear. Everything just seemed to make this Paul´s night!
(Added note: To be fair, after attending the concert in the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington the following night, I was a thousand times more impressed with Dylan´s performance there and the crowd was much more appreciative of his set as well.)