Paul Simon performed at the 21st Annual Bob Costas Benefit for Cardinal Glennon Children´s Hospital on Saturday night, April 18. Bob Costas is an NBC television broadcaster, known primarily for sports play-by-play and hosting the Olympics but also for his work as a talk show host over the years. The concert benefits the ´Bob Costas Cancer Center´ at Cardinal Glennon Hospital for Children in St. Louis. The benefit has taken place at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis for many years. The Fox is a gorgeous theater in the arts district of St. Louis known as Grand Center. The Fox was built in 1929 as a movie theater in a gaudy art deco style that includes a red-carpeted grand staircase guarded by twin lion statues with glowing eyes. Because this was a benefit for the children´s cancer center, the crowd was not the typical concert audience. Although our tickets specified ´Attire: Business Casual´ a number of people attended in formalwear.
Comedian Robert Klein opened the show, singing ´Colonoscopy´ which literally had me laughing out loud. Klein is a masterful comedian as well as a decent blues harmonica player. Paul Simon fans will recall the prominent role that Bob Costas had in Paul Simon´s ´Gershwin Prize´ concert. I assume that Costas made arrangements at that show for Paul Simon to appear at this year´s benefit. My seats were on the main floor but pretty far back and Paul did not use the video screen that had given me a close view of Robert Klein´s set.
After a seemingly interminable series of video messages from major donors, sportscaster Bob Costas reported ´Paul Simon will take the stage any minute now.´ The star of the 21st Annual Bob Costas Benefit for Cardinal Glennon Children´s Hospital finally took the stage along with his usual band: Mark Stewart (guitars, pennywhistle, baritone sax), Tony Cedras (accordion, keyboards, trumpet, guitar), Bakithi Kumalo (bass), Vincent Nguini (guitars), Jay Ashby (percussion and trombone), Jim Hines (trumpet), Andy Snitzer (saxophone and Pro Tools) and Charley Drayton (drums). Paul did not perform any unreleased material and played a fifteen-song set that was a bit shorter than his typical concert. As he has done for several years, Paul began the concert with ´Gumboots,´ from the Graceland album and continued with ´The Boy In The Bubble.´ That rocker gave way to the more contemplative acoustic ´Slip, Sliding Away,´ and the older crowd seemed to respond favorably to the change in mood. Simon continued with ´Father And Daughter´ with Tony Cedras joining the other guitarists on acoustic guitar. The guitar interplay was simply gorgeous and Paul´s vocal was stunning, making that song the high point of the evening for most of the crowd. Paul continued with another acoustic song, ´Duncan,´ with Paul finger picking nicely and Mark Stewart playing pennywhistle harmony to Jim Hines´ muted trumpet. At least I think it was a muted trumpet ´“ it looked like a trumpet with a mute but it also sounded s ynthesized, so I´m taking a guess here. Paul did a nice job on the bass string runs that are prominently featured on the Live Rhymin´ version of the tune and I really enjoyed the combination of the pennywhistle and Jim Hines´ instrument. Paul stepped up the tempo a bit with ´Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard,´ with Jim Hines doubling Paul´s whistling. The last couple of times I´ve seen Paul perform ´Julio´ it looks like he´s trying to whistle but has Hines whistling too just in case Paul´s pucker peters out.
Paul then launched into the riff for ´Mrs. Robinson´ but instead of the segue into ´Mystery Train´ the band shifted to a Bo Diddley beat and played Buddy Holly´s ´Not Fade Away,´ to the delight of a few Deadheads in the crowd. ´Mrs. Robinson´ got perhaps the loudest ovation to the point in the evening, and Paul responded with something like ´oh, we´re in Simon & Garfunkel territory here,´ before playing a beautiful version of ´The Only Living Boy In New York.´ Paul used his falsetto to fine effect on this one and the harmonies from the band were stunning. Tony Cedras played what sounded to me like a Hammond B-3 organ and Bakithi Kumalo duplicated the bass line from the recorded version nicely. This was one of the real highpoints of the show for me. Paul´s vocal was quite tender at the beginning, the falsetto was beautiful and he really rocked out on the ´half of the time we´re gone but we don´t know where´ line.
The rhythm section set up a groove that I instantly recognized as ´Graceland,´ but it was not until Mark Stewart´s slide guitar played the signature riff that most of the crowd realized that they were hearing one of Paul Simon´s greatest songs. Every time I hear Paul perform this song live, I marvel at how perfect the song is. ´Graceland´ is such a perfect song that I think that adding or subtracting anything would change it for the worse: it reminds me in some ways of the anonymous sculptor who said ´I simply chip away everything that is not the horse.´ Paul continued with yet another song from the Graceland album, ´Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes.´ This song has always been a chance for the drummers to shine and Charley Drayton and Jay Ashby made the most of it. But it was also an opportunity for the other band members to show their vocal chops. Mark Stewart, Vincent Nguini, and Tony Cedras did a creditable job on the ´ta-na-na-na´ vocals originated by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
The main set ended with ´Late In The Evening´ featuring Charley Drayton´s propulsive drumming and a slightly different guitar arrangement than I´m used to hearing. It sounded like Paul was finger picking the guitar instead of strumming it for most of the song and it gave the song an interesting feel. This song also showed how quickly Paul´s relatively small ensemble can expand into a much bigger sound by creating a horn section seemingly out of nowhere. Mark Stewart played electric guitar on this song but also played the biggest baritone sax I´ve ever seen in my life. I think Tony Cedras also played trumpet on this song. It´s so big, Mark didn´t even attempt to pick it up ´“ it was supported on some kind of stand and Mark wandered over to it and played it on the stand. I believe that Jay Ashby switched to trombone for this song joining Jim Hines on trumpet and Andy Snitzer on tenor saxophone. Paul omitted the word ´j´ from the song for some reason ´“ maybe he thought the staid audience would be offended by the drug reference.
After the encore break, Paul and the band returned for a really outstanding ´Still Crazy After All These Years,´ with Tony Cedras playing electric piano. Maybe it was because the audience was too old, or maybe they actually knew the song but this was the first time I ever heard the audience sing along on this song correctly. I didn´t hear anybody sing ´whoah still crazy´ after the first verse. I´m proud of you, St. Louis´¦.
Paul then did a version of ´The Boxer´ that I´ve never heard before. Musically, the song was pretty much the same, although he did do a little introductory figure on acoustic guitar that had sort of the same function as the Fred Carter, Jr. lick that introduces the hit single, but it wasn´t as intricate as that. Paul changed the first verse from first-person to third-person: ´A poor boy, his story seldom told, he has squandered his resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises.´ And to give props to my hometown one more time, the audience singing on the ´lie-la-lies´ actually sounded in tune. Jim Hines played the instrumental solo on the ´muted trumpet´ instrument and Paul then made a profound change in the lyric to the last verse: ´In the clearing stands a boxer and fighter by his trade, and he carries no reminders of every blow that´s laid him down or cut him til he cried out´¦.´ I´m still trying to decide how that one word changes the song´s meaning. The lyric changes in ´The Boxer´ are something that I´m going to think about for a long time. Paul introduced Vincent Nguini who played the signature guitar riff to ´You Can Call Me Al´ and the crowd responded to the video favorite. This was the fifth song of the evening from ´Graceland.´ The band went offstage and eventually Paul returned for a beautiful, solo acoustic version of ´Sounds of Silence.´ Paul changed the melody line a bit in places but for the most part this version was similar to the hit single version. Paul has characterized himself as ´an ordinary player in the key of ´˜C´´ but in the folk style of ´Sounds Of Silence,´ Paul Simon is an outstanding guitarist. To borrow an Art Garfunkel phrase, this was a ´perfect moment´ to end a perfect evening.