Vincent Nguini - Guitar
Bakithi Kumalo - Bass
Steve Gadd - Drums
Mark Stewart - Guitars, Cello, Saxophone, selfmade instruments
Tony Cedras - Accordeon, Keyboard, Guitars
Andy Snitzer - Saxophone, Synthesizer
Jay Ashby - Trombone, Percussion
Jamey Haddad - Percussion
Alain Mallet - Keyboard, Accordion
Steve Shehan - Percussion
Evan Ziporyn - Clarinet, Saxophone
Harper Simon - Guitar
I was first introduced to Paul´s music at the age of 13 when a friend gave me a copy of ´The Concert in Central Park´ (i.e. with Garfunkel in 1981) - an album which blew me away and has remained one of my most significant musical influences.
I first saw Paul live at the Albert Hall with the Graceland tour in 1985 - a concert which I still rate as the best I´ve seen (50 visits to Dylan and Van Morrison not withstanding!!). I saw Paul again in Glasgow in 1991 with ´The Rhythym of the Saints´ tour and again was very impressed.
So how was this evening´s concert? Paul was fantastic. From the very start there was warm appreciation from the audience and (as with Dylan´s recent visit) part of it was admiration simply for the longevity of the man´s career, still touring at 58 (´this might be the last time around´ is always my justification for buying every possible souvenir!).
That is not to say that the performance was anything short of excellent in its own right. The sheer diversity of Paul´s musical influences and repertoire displayed throughout the evening was amazing - from jazz, gospel, rock ´n´ roll, blues, folk, African and South American infuences etc....
Paul played six songs from the new album - all of which stood up very well and some were significantly enhanced by the live performance. ´The Teacher´, in particular, was beautifully haunting and one wished that the harpsicord moments could be extended, so incredibly evocative was the sound it made.
´Darling Lorraine´ and ´Hurricane Eye´ also benefitted from being heard live - the lyrics of the later song caught one´s attention more for some reason.
From the Graceland album, we had ´Graceland´ itself, ´Diamonds on the soles of her shoes´, ´That was your mother´ (Cajun style!),´You can call me Al´ and ´The boy in the bubble´. ´Diamonds´, as ever, was the pick of these songs - especially with the accapella introduction grabbing the audience´s attention. From ´Rhythym of the Saints´ we had a fine rendering of ´Spirit voices´, ´The Coast´ and ´Proof´.
The highlights of the evening for me though came from Paul´s back catalogue - a fascinating version of ´One Man´s Ceiling is another man´s floor´, a Dylanesque version of ´I am a Rock´ and an interesting duet with Mark McCarthy (a sixties London folk-scene acquantance of Paul) on ´Scarborough Fair´. (I wasn´t so convinced about the versions of ´Kodachrome´ and ´Bridge over troubled water´. You can understand him wanting to reinterpret them but I think he has already given better reinterpretations of these songs).
Song of the evening though, without question for me was ´The Late, Great Johnny Ace´ which comes from what must be the most underated album of all time - ´Hearts and Bones´. I think it is hard to dispute that Paul´s most perfect songs, certainly in terms of lyrics, were all on that album i.e. ´Hearts and Bones´ (please put it back in your live set Paul), ´Train in the Distance´, and the totally stunning, ´Rene and Georgette Magritte with their dog after the war´. This album may not have sold many copies but you would be hard pushed to think of another album by any artist with three such perfect songs.
And, to return to the song of the evening, I think we should include ´The Late, Great Johnny Ace´ in the above list. The depth of this song has only just stuck me recently. Paul is undoubtedly performing it because of the anniversary of John Lennon´s death and he precedes it by singing the original Johnny Ace´s ´Pledging my love´ (which he introduced by saying, ´this is the first rock ´n´ roll record I bought back in 1954. Johnny Ace killed himself that year in a game of Russian Roulette´). The song is a great example of Paul´s ability to use simple words to say so much - it is a profound meditation on music and death throughout three decades. (He only has to mention J.F.K. to bring death into the second section). And the
subtlety of the line, ´the music was flowing, amazing and blowing my way....´ to hint at his own music career (and possibly death?).
Overall a five-star performance - it was great to see him again and especially pleasing was the warmth of the reception all evening. I think that Paul Simon will be judged 100 years from now as being one of the best song writers of the 20th century and more than a few of his songs will achieve longevity. Thanks Paul for a wonderful evening and for being a key influence and source of pleasure in my life.
Written by Jonathan Galloway at [email protected]
Any replies to the above comments are welcome, particularly anybody who wants to challenge/agree with my thesis that ´Hearts and Bones´ contains the best examples of Paul´s songwriting ability....!