Last time Paul Simon toured in Summer´73, he used a South American group, Urubamba. and an American gospel quartet, the Jessy Dixon Singers (Jessy
plus her three sisters) to accompany him. The net result was a varied, imaginative and. compelling evening, all captured on record on Simon´s live
This time he´d retained the Jessv Dixon Singers, but for the main Part of the evening had put together a band of regular US session-men; well, not regular exactly -the most accomplished team that money can buy.
The following were involved: Tony Levin (bass), Steve Gadd (drums), Hugh McCracken (guitar) Richard Tee (piano). David Sanborn (sax), as well as Toots Thielmans on harp
Obviously, if you´ve got the best musicians you´re going to make sure they can be heard properly. I have never heard better sound quality at any concert
Simon opened, solo, with the same two numbers that had introduced the tour of two-and a half years ago -- ´Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard´ and ´Homeward Bound´; before-the band gradually took up their places on an increasingly cramped stage in front of a bizarre backcloth that was actually awaiting Lulu´s arrival in ´peter Pan´.
It wad all too beautiful, all faultlessly executed so: that it was a bit like sitting at home in front of the Bang and Olufson or like having dropped in on a Stateside recording session
Since. most of the musicians were the very ones Simon had used on his ´Still Crazy´. Album, and since most of the. material was drawn from that, they could re-create their own recorded performances to the last semi-quaver. Spontaneous combustion? You gotta be kidding.
Simon´s communications to the audience were rate, he preferred smiling wanly to uttering syllables, so that while he seemed perfectly relaxed playing guitar (acoustic or electric), he hardly relaxed the people who´d coughed up the inflated ticket prices.
´You´re Kind´, ´Have A Good Time´ and ´My Little Town´ Followed one another in pre-programmed perfection, and then even a string quartet appeared in the stage. There were occasional solos. (Thielman in ´You´re Kind´, Sanborn at the end of ´Have A Good Time´ and McCracken in ´The Boxer´), but generally no one spoke out of turn and Simon hardly spoke at all.
The second half proceeded in similar style, though we noted that Thielmans did not reappear. Simon then took time out for an´ articulate, witty and caustic attack on an old colleague of ours, James Johnson, who had written in his Evening Standard review that Simon lacked the physical stature normally granted legendary figures.
If there´s one thing Simon´s self-conscious about; to the point of paranoia, it´s his deficiency in the inches department, Johnson came in for a severe lambasting.
At last Simon introduced the :Jessy Dixon singers, who instantly injected so much warmth; vigour and passion into the evening, they made what had gone before seem like so much torpor. They were so invigorating, it seemed they must have dropped in from some neighbouring planetary system; with their gospel songs they were parading a tradition that was the opposite of the introspective folk-singer style on ´which Simon had been weaned.
The audience responded to their outward charm in like manner, with warm and prolonged applause. By now every one had forgotten the insignificant figure bashing tambourine. Simon was reeling now, he had to pull something out of the bag. He took the only way out ´Bridge Over Troubled Water´, using the same arrangement that had graced the Live album. At the end he buried his head in the bosom of each red-hot mamma in turn; by now everyone one was happy. They all returned for ´Gone At Last´, before Simon concluded the evening on his own, with ´American Tune´ (in my opinion his most outstanding composition) and, inevitably ´The Sound of Silence´.
Simon has a very real aversion to performing, possibly because his songs are too intensely personal to be easily communicated, but mainly he just doesn´t like it. It´s obviously difficult for him to overcome his natural emotional reserve in public; at the beginning he achieved this by working with the more outgoing Garfunkel: now he does it by working within a framework of total musical and technical sophistication to an extent where he´s severely under employing some of the world´s most talented musicians.
The point is that he doesn´t make any mistakes because he is afraid to make mistakes.
I wish he´d just lively up himself, just as I also wish he´d be bolder in his selection of material. I think he´s wrong to assume that all the people want to hear all his well-known songs all the time.
He was merely brilliant: the evening told me nothing new about Paul Simon. He told us years ago how he felt about live performance: ´Tonight I´ll sing my songs again, I´ll play the game and pretend´