Paul was in great form in Saratoga Sunday night. He was looser and sounded better than IÄ«ve ever heard him before, including the Beacon shows last year. His singing has also gotten actually better - the songs of this tour have matured nicely, with subtle but interesting alterations, especially in PaulÄ«s phrasing.
The Saratoga Performing Arts Centre is nestled in the woods of the Saratoga Spa State Park about five miles south of Saratoga Springs. It would be lovely to take in a day in the park, perhaps picnicing or checking out some of the geysers that supposedly pop up from time to time. The $5 entrance fee to the park (which you have to pay even if only to drive through) kind of sours your mood, though. Ahh suburbia - where you need a vehicle to go to the park.
Joined by our trusty driver, Wilkie, myself and the gang managed to avert a parking disaster as the seven pm approached. Wilkie did a greta job sneaking us into the front of the miles-long line to get into the free parking before we decided to go back to the park, pay our $5 and sneak into the back of the venue. The poor souls who werenÄ«t as clever as Wilkie probably missed all of Brian WilsonÄ«s set, waiting to find a parking spot. The folks who run the SPAC should get their heads together and figure out a way to solve the parking nightmare.
We wound up missing the first few songs of Brian WilsonÄ«s 75 minute set. I could hear snippets of Little Girl I Once Knew and Surfer Girl as we managed to collect out tickets and navigate to our seats. The seats were great: slightly right of centre, about 20 rows back. The ambience of the amphitheatre is alright, though it feels a little out of place in the middle of the woods. The sound was good and the hanging balcony meant that even the lawn was close to the stage.
The first half of WilsonÄ«s set consisted of some classic Beach Boy tunes and some slower, lesser-known numbers. I am working my way through the Roxy CD, so it wasnÄ«t all new, though he did perform a new song. Some of BrianÄ«s shtick is a little too much - the cigarette lighter joke, for instance. After a couple of instrumentals, during which an unenthusiastic Wilson turned his back to the audience, slumping in his chair (SimonÄ«s Tai-Chi moves during The Teacher & dancing during the drum coda of Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes would be a strong contrast to WilsonÄ«s depressing stage presence), Brian strung together a bunch of peppy, sing-along Beach Boy tunes that everybody know. He got the crowd up (and wouldnÄ«t let them sit - yelling in between songs Ä«DonÄ«t sit down! DonÄ«t sit down!Ä«) and dancing and we had a blast.
It was sad to see that Brian needed teleprompters, and that his keyboard was left unused and that he barely played the bass and sat all night, but he seemed to enjoy himself. He seems to have found salvation from his torturous life in music, and god bless him. A touching moment came when Brian dedicated one of his songs to a brother of his who died tragically (either Carl or Dennis or both). He closed his set with Love & Mercy and then took off with his great big band to sign merchandise at the top of the arena.
During the break I had a chance to pick up an authentic Diamons mug (IÄ«d have bought a cool Paul Ä«65 shirt but I have too many PS shirts as it is) and got to finally meet Phil (PLap17) and his sons, who demonstrated a keen sense of musical perception for kids so young (at their age, I was, by all means, a moron). It was also great to see Cathy Friedmann again at a PS show. The three of us spent about fifteen minutes taking some pictures, speculating on the setlist and discussing the quirks of this newsgroup before the lights dimmed, and the greatest band on this planet took their spots on stage.
The Band New to this leg of the YouÄ«re The One tour are the steady drummer Graham Hawthorne, who replaced Steve Gadd (whoÄ«s on tour with Eric Clapton) and the whistler par extraordinaire Jim Heinz, who took Evan ZiporynÄ«s spot and brought his trumpet with him. HeinzÄ«s trumpet was as big and brassy as a ketchup bottle and really gave a nice high end to PaulÄ«s horn section. Last year I missed the likes of Chris Botti or Randy Brecker at the end of The Coast or during Late In The Evening - you just need a trumpet to fill the sound and kudos to Paul for going out and getting one (and such a good trumpeter too).
The show began, like the rest of this tour, with ThatÄ«s Where I Belong, which to me has always sounded like a ship sailing off to sea. We were in for a treat. Graceland followed with myself, my dear Sig and Wilkie getting up and boogeying. We were just about the only ones. We pretended to not hear the people yelling at us to sit and made dancinÄ« fools of ourselves.
YouÄ«re The One was really good. Paul has adjusted his singing to an almost total conversational tone, and really nails the verses. 50 Ways was spectacular - Alain MalletÄ«s keyboard solo was sooo funky, and Jay AshbyÄ«s muted trombone at the end is such a great sound. The audience trying to sing along was cute too - you could kind of hear Ä«em miss by about half a beat.
Ahh yes, the audience. PaulÄ«s ode Zydeco, the music for which dancing was invented, fell on some deaf ears. We were up and moving but all around us were people who sat stiff in their chairs, despite the antics of the washboard playing Jamey Haddad (is there anything he canÄ«t do?). For Me & Julio, a song many in the crowd probably remembered from youth, everybody was up and dancing. Strange. Repeatedly, it seemed that the boomers only really responded to songs that were 25 years old or more (a shame). Anyhow, Jim Heinz performed the whistling during Julio perfectly, getting a big ovation and a curvy blonde to wipe him down after his solo, to even bigger cheers. A very fun song.
The Teacher with paulÄ«s ballet moves was great, though I would swapped it with Spirit Voices which followed - that groove would have bridged Me & Julio with the Teacher really well. Spirit was perhaps PaulÄ«s best tune, with its vivid imagery and the sound of the jungle all around. This arrangement really brings the song to life, and speaks for the whole evening - Ä«some stories are magical, they are meant to be sung,Ä« as Paul put it that night. The horn coda is a spectacular bit of arranging.
A dragged out a cappella introduction to Diamonds followed by four minutes of carefree afropop, three minutes of intense percussion from masters Steve Shehan and Jamey Haddad and the rock-steady Graham Hawthorne, and five minutes of Call Me Al-robics. The crowd was pumped, Paul was jivinÄ« and wailinÄ«, Bakhithi was breakinÄ« down the bass and everybody had a great time.
Allowing his audience a moment to repose, Paul carefully picked out the intro to his first number 1, the Sound of Silence. This was probably the best arrangement I ever heard of this old song. SimonÄ«s guitar playing was very strong. Mark StewartÄ«s cello was exceptional, the snippets of percussion were subtle and PaulÄ«s phrasing was sublime. Even though he flubbed a verse and restarted, Paul nailed the song, singing it in a fresh and honest style that renewed it in front of my very own eyes. A lovely Homeward Bound with gorgeous guitar harmonies from Stewart followed, rounded out by the Ä«heavy metalÄ« (for short Jewish white rock stars) I Am A Rock. Always a blast, that one-two punch. This arrangement of Rock is its best - it captures the alienation and the frustration of the singer so well - Korn, Limp Bizkit et al could take a lesson.
The Boy In The Bubble, a concert staple, rocked the joint (at least the half that bothered to get up). Nice bass solo from Bakhithi Khumalo, not to mention some drums at the end. Paul introduced next Ä«the greatÄ« Vincent Nguini and my favourite song, The Coast. During the first verses, Paul sang Ä«That is worth something, that is worth some money, gotta make some money, make some money...Ä« trailing off and rubbing his fingers together in a cashlike motion. During the last verse, the musicians stopped, save for Nguini, who kept picking out that amazing riff, as Alain Mallet played a funeral organ for a few bars, as they buried the soul returning to the earth. As Paul sang to us, it was worth something, more than money.
That brief foray into deep spiritual healing was followed by the quintessential party song, Late In The Evening. Love those horns. Paul and co. exited for the first time, and came back to play a roaring Hurricane Eye - love the last verse, which featured PaulÄ«s best storytime tone of voice. Exceptional. Proof was next, with good vibrations all around and Paul spraying mineral water all over the first five rows at the end. And then a slow roll though Still Crazy that made it all seem so smooth.
For a second encore we were treated to Mrs. Robinson, which was great (but I wouldnÄ«t be too sad if I never heard it again live - it just doesnÄ«t do it for me). I do like the guitar break and the sax solo in the middle. The Boxer was next featuring 15000 backup singers on the first chorus. HeinzÄ«s trumpet provided the instrumental. The fingerpicking on The Boxer meshes well with Mark StewartÄ«s lovely banjo. What followed was a new and very cool number.
Vincent Nguini, Jay Ashby, Tony Cedras and Mark Stewart put down their instruments and formed a circle about fifteen feet to PaulÄ«s left. Paul in turn baged out the two-note intro to Loves Me Like A Rock, and we suddenly had a little block party, with a great doowop band and all. Loads of smiles all around as the four guys sang great backup vocals and laughed there way through the song. Paul seemed to have a good time too, sneaking in a few bars of The Lion Sleeps Tonight in his gorgeous falsetto at the end.
This being a Paul Simon concert, we got yet another encore, as our block party continued with a great pounding Kodachrome, which I loved, and then, as Paul put it, Ä«one more, one more,Ä« a tender Bridge Over Troubled Water.
There would be no more that night - not Hears & Bones, which returned Friday night in Boston, or the Cool, Cool River, or Pigs, Sheep & Wolves or Old, Darling Lorraine or One ManÄ«s Ceiling. Paul left all those for another night, so weÄ«ll catch him again. He sounded fitter and younger than ever, with a strong voice that had great range and tone. The band was extremely tight and innovative, with some humour thrown in. I think Mark Stewart appreciated our energy, as he kept pointing and smiling (at us?) towards our direction all night long. For a third night in a row, nobody phoned anything in. The show was long and fun with a great treat in Brian Wilson. A more energetic crowd would have been nice, but you canÄ«t win Ä«em all. The drive home (out the park, through the town, on the highway, nothing but asphalt) was a bit anticlimactic, but Wilkie got us all back safe and sound, and we all canÄ«t wait to see Paul again. A satin summer night indeed.