It was an amazing night. He sang. He danced. He smiled. He introduced the band. And at the end, grinning from ear to ear, he said ´I´ve really enjoyed myself tonight ´“ I really have´.
The start of the night did not auger well. A slow trickle of people ´“ old people - entered the 10,000 seat arena. I´m in my 50s myself. But these people looked old. I kidded to my wife that her daughter and husband would be the token young people at the concert. When they arrived, step-daughter noted that they were the night´s the young people at the concert. Getting Old. ´˜nuff said.
Perhaps it was the atrocious PR for the show (none of my friends knew about it) or the fact that Paul had played 3 hours to the north in this sparsely populated area of New England the previous night. Regardless, when the lights went down for Kelly Sweet (who my daughter nicely summed up as a red headed Mariah Carey) the house was barely half full. By the time Paul took the stage, it was about half full with the area behind the stage curtained off, and the rear half of the seats at all levels empty.
I was disappointed to say the least, and also a bit concerned that Paul, who is reputed to be, a shall I say, a somewhat temperamental artist, may have felt slighted to the point of changing a lyric to How Can I Play in the Northeast? (According to the newspaper, 4,000 Vermonters attended the previous night´s show in Essex Junction).
I was also disappointed on a personal level, because my wife was reluctant to join me at this concert. A previous show with Paul was a real disappointment. We saw the stage persona recorded for posterity in the You´re The One and Old Friends Tour DVDs ´“ meaning an extraordinary level of awkwardness, diffidence to the audience, and a variety of hand motions and genuflections that make Paul seem really odd, awkward and slightly disconnected. Still, the opportunity to see him on home turf, and my enjoyment of Surprise lead us to Manchester, daughter and husband in tow. (The latter responded to the invitation with ´Well, I´m not a big Paul Simon fan´¦.´
By the end of the night he was.
The band went into Gumboots, which still strikes me as an odd choice to open the show. The audience responded respectfully, not quite recognizing this somewhat more obscure choice from Graceland. What struck me was Paul´s animation in conveying the lyrics in the song. And I´ve always thought that Gumboots has the greatest pickup line in the history of pop-rock ´Hey senorita, you´re astute I said / Why don´t we get together and call ourselves an institute´¦?´)
When the intro to Boy In The Bubble started things began to perk up ´“ some folks around me voiced what many in the audience must have been thinking ´“ ´Oh good, he´s playing older stuff´. And as many readers of these reviews already know, he did in fact play lots of older stuff. The key point related to how he played those songs. It wasn´t that they were merely reinvented or played with fresh arrangements. They were played very, very lovingly and soulfully.
Like most of the material played this evening, Boy In The Bubble was played with the warmth, and familiarity of a song that has percolated into our collective unconscious. Paul´s music is both evocative in its own right, and evocative of personal memories - where we were when that song, album was first released. For myself, it is impossible to listen to the introduction to Boy In The Bubble without seeing my own daughter in 1987, an infant barely holding herself upright, hands up in the air bouncing madly along to the infectious beat. The moment the accordion filled the room with its reedy sound, my daughter was there, weaving and bobbing to the beat.
Outrageous caught many people off guard. This is a song, like so many on the under rated Surprise disc, that really grows on you over time. Paul enunciated the lyrics carefully, as he did throughout the night, and by the time Paul got to the infectious hook (who´s gonna love you when you´re looks are gone´¦) the crowd was starting to move in their seats.
Similarly, Slip Slidin´ Away has also gained from our collective experiences. Who among us has not experienced the minor epiphanies Paul describes in this song. Who among as ´“ as we look back on our lives ´“ does not recall the mornings when a good day has no rain, and a bad day involves lying around thinking about what might have been. Can the song have any less meaning for its composer, the man who produced the ill-fated Capeman? I don´t think so. The audience loved this song.
An early highlight for me was You´re The One. The rhythmic drive of the song was cut way back, allowing Paul to bring the lyrics to the forefront. And what extraordinary lyrics. I advise you to go back and read the little booklet in your CD case. The lyrics are very wise, and hauntingly beautiful. Again and again, Paul made direct contact with audience members using unusually fluid body language to convey the lyrics meaning.
Me and Julio brought the excitement up another notch. I noticed that I was not the only member of the audience squirming in his seat, eager to move, to dance. What is it with our generation growing up to sit in our seats so sedately? A woman across the aisle and her friend began dancing in the isle. My wife and I soon joined them. Others stood up. Soon the front floor was up on there feet. Paul broke into his first smile. We were listening to music that wasn´t merely good, but was beginning to perform miracles. It was transforming us. We were joyously happy, suddenly these old people, myself included, were feeling young again. We were being lead by a 64-year-old pied piper to a state of communal bliss.
Perhaps it´s a good point to say something about that 64-year-old imp. Our generation from the 1960s is changing what it means to be in one´s personal 60s. From 18 rows back, Paul looked great. Running down to dance in front of the stage, Paul looked, well ´“ pretty darn tired. But if he was, it never ´“ came through in the performance (well, a moment or two at the end, but I´m getting ahead of myself here). He looked trim and fit and danced around the stage. But Paul, please ´“ take off the cap. It´s OK. Really. You´re among friends. Old friends. We have hair issues too.
How Can You Live In The Northeast was powerful. Kudos to the extraordinary Mark Stewart for laying a foundation of absolutely massive chords for this song. If you´ve seen the S&G Old Friends DVD, you´ve already seen this incredibly talented, and very long haired guitarist. This guy rocks.What struck me during this song was how the audience was not merely hanging in there for this and other, lesser-known songs. This audience was really listening, and for many they seemed to be truly hearing this material for the first time. Again ´“ people were really listening to the lyrics, catching the imagery in this song, with its oblique references to Katrina, Middle Eastern conflicts, national divisions and other aspects of the changing, divided world we live in.
Mrs. Robinson, well, was Mrs. Robinson and the first of three times that I really missed Art´s voice, the other two being Cecilia and BOTW. But Paul´s electric Buddy Holly break was fun, and the crowd loved it. Other ghosts, those of the Jessie Dixon singers, haunted love Me Like A Rock, another crowd pleaser. Still the crowd loved it.
That Was Your Mother was kick-ass. This band tore into that song like a motha. Seeming more topical than it was when it first appeared on Graceland due to the reverberations from Katrina, this song was amazing.
Duncan followed ´“ it was amazing that Paul was able to bring the energy back down so quickly without having people walk out to take a break. Again ´“ people were really listening to the beautiful lyrics of this story.
Graceland followed, and frankly, it didn´t reach the heights of the previous songs from that album. Maybe it was the slightly slower pacing of the song. I don´t know. It didn´t catch fire the way I expected it to.
Father and Daughter followed ´“ charming little song that it is. I assume that the adolescent kid singing backup was Paul´s Adrian, but he never introduced the him.
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes marked a threshold for this concert. The transformed the concert from a very, very good one to a uniquely great musical experience. The group began the acapella introduction. At first, I feared another ghost ´“ that of LBM singing backup. Then all of the sudden, the deep, resonant, ebony voice of Vincent Nguini broke out and the crowd went wild. All the pent up energy and the desire of this audience to be sparked to the point of wild abandon was reached. I´m not sure what Glenn was referring to in his earlier review, but I was in Row RR on the floor and I saw everyone up and dancing to this tune.
People rushed the stage. People danced and people sang. When we got to tana-ta-nana, tana-ta-nana it was a giant communal mass. Paul exchanged smiles with his band, then, still smiling, turned to the audience and said ´you´re great´¦I´m really enjoying myself´. The first of three times is said that!
Still Crazy was another amazing transition. The audience settled back into their seats, and once again listened. There were lots of knowing smiles during this song. Now in our 50s, and our 60s, we had just finished tana-ta-nana´ing our butts off. All of us were still crazy. None more so perhaps, than Andy Snitzer who played a blazing sax solo in the middle section, again bringing the crowd to an uproar.
Cecilia was another communal celebration, with audience members supplying the missing ´“ and very much missed ´“ backup vocals from Artie. Several of us yelled out ´making love´ at the critical point.
After another rapturous response, Paul offered his second reflection of enjoyment.
A brief repose, then You Can Call Me Al, which was met with the same enthusiasm as Diamonds. People, including myself, rushed the stage defying security´s increasingly beleaguered attempts to keep the aisles clear. When Bakithi Kumalo played the iconic bass run that links the riffs, the arena went wild. Every time. Just wild. Paul smiled. Paul looked beat. Paul had a right to be tired. Singing with eyes closed, with seat streaming down his face, I turned to my wife and remarked that he looked his age. What was remarkable was that it didn´t affect the energy of the performance.
There was a moment or two when I thought I saw Paul´s ears search the foot of the stage after pausing in mid lyric. Memory lapse? Does he work with monitors? Don´t know. Wouldn´t blame him if he did.
One of my personal favorites followed ´“ Only Living Boy In New York. Paul introduced it as a little song off the BOTW album that he had forgotten about, ´until it showed up in a film called Garden State´. This is a song, like Hey Jude, that has an elegant, inevitable simplicity that builds to magnificent spiritual heights. The closing harmonies of the aaahhhhssss were a little weak, and missing Artie, but again, it was wonderful hearing was still there.
Paul then offhandedly and affectionately said, here´s another old Simon and Garfunkel song. With the opening strum someone shouted out ´oh YEAH´. It was The Boxer. Beautiful, simple, and timeless. I miss the ´ain´t it strange after changes upon changes we are more or less then same´ verse Paul added in the 80s, but the song was beautiful.
Another brief repose, then Wartime Prayers ´“ elliptical, hauntingly beautiful, dare I say a classic? That beautiful couplet at the end ´“ leading us into Bridge Over Troubled Water.
BOTW is one of those rare songs that has taken on a life of its own. I´m not sure Paul even feels like its his anymore. It is so many things to so many different people. And while I missed hearing Artie sing it, being what it is, it simply became different, equally great with Paul singing it, triumphantly, once more at the age of 64.
The audience ´“ long ago submitting to the pleasures of the night ´“ broke into explosive applause. Someone passed a cardboard sign up to the stage. One side of it said ´We Love You´ the other, more pragmatically, asked ´Will you autograph this´. Paul motioned that he needed a pen, and then signed. He shook hands, he waved, he put his hands together and bowed his head, and he smiled some more, and then, for a third and final time, told us that he had really enjoyed himself.
So did we Paul, so did we. Thank you Paul. Thank you for the music, for the memories, for your continued risk taking and for your continuing growth as an artist. You´ve enriched all of our lives.