I’ve been a fan of Paul Simon for as long as I can remember. In September 1981 I was in Central Park for the Simon and Garfunkel reunion. In August 1991 I was back in the park for Simon’s solo concert. And now in June 2011 I was at Webster Hall – a relatively intimate space for a legendary artist. And as great as it was, there was an extra special gift – a week or so before the concert there was a song I was wishing he’d perform. It’s not one of the big hits from Paul Simon so I was sure I wouldn’t hear it. But there it was – as if he were playing it just for me.
My confession is that my favorite album of Simon’s is Paul Simon. I own everything up to Graceland (or maybe Rhythm of the Saints) but I barely played those albums and I’m only familiar with the FM radio hits. But Paul Simon I know backwards and forwards. So when I heard the chords for “Peace Like a River” I almost screamed. And they ended the song with a beautiful long piano solo. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The show sold out quickly and I didn’t get a ticket. Luckily rtb, violaleeblue, and I were each trying for two tickets (the maximum allowed) and rtb and violaleeblue both scored. rtb brought a co-worker and they met violaleeblue and me in the club. Our regular bass trap seats had been taken over by video cameras but I scored a very small space on a trap that was piled high with stuff. It wasn’t the most comfortable seat but I knew the place was going to be packed and it was unlikely that I’d be able to see otherwise. In fact, Gigantor stood in front of me just as the show began and with his height and Simon’s lack of, I still had to lean over to be able to see Simon singing. Whenever Gigantor moved away I had a full view of the stage.
When we first got there Eddie Simon was in the middle of the floor talking to some people. He looks so much like his brother that I first I mistook him for Paul but I was corrected and I realized my mistake at the same time. Besides there was no way that Paul could be standing in the middle of that floor and not be mobbed.
Simon and the band entered at 8:30pm. The band is made up of some guys he’s been working with for a long time and some he’s been touring with recently. They are Mark Stewart (lead guitar, backing vocals, baritone saxophone, and sometimes band leader), Vincent Nguini [aka the Enigma from Cameroon] (guitar), Bakithi Kumalo (bass, percussion), Tony Cedras (keyboards, trumpet, accordion), Jamey Haddad (timbales, percussion), Andrew Snitzer (soprano and tenor saxophones, keyboards), Mick Rossi (piano), and Jim Oblon (drums, percussion). Each one took a solo and just blew the house away. They are as tight a band as you will ever see in your life. Simon, as a performer, is constantly moving. His hands wave around describing the action of the songs or his feelings. But at the moment he wanted a pause or letting the band know just one more go-around, Simon would lift his hand and give the signal. Considering how often they’ve played these songs and how good they are I’m not sure they needed the help but I know it contributed to the tightness. Simon is in great voice – the truth of what he’s singing comes through. The combination of his truth and the great band gave me chills on more than one song. And the songs have been changed up just enough to make them interesting but not so much that you don’t recognize them.
Throughout this recent tour (promoting his new album So Beautiful or So What) most of the shows (including the one at the Beacon Theater last month) have opened with “Crazy Love, Vol II” but this time that was his closer and he opened with “The Boy in the Bubble.” His catalog is just so huge that it would be impossible for him to play every song that the crowd wanted to hear but he managed to satisfy all of his with his choices. I can’t say I loved all the new songs – he may be taking a cue from his wife and writing lullabies and those songs just stopped the show cold.
There was little conversation. He said the last club he played in NYC was Gerde’s Folk City. When he introduced Jimmy Cliff’s “Vietnam” he said it had inspired “Mother and Child Reunion.” The former lead right into the latter but I wish he’d played a more inspired version of “Vietnam.” There were covers of George Harrison (“Here Comes the Sun”), Junior Parker (Mystery Train), and Chet Atkins (“Wheels”) songs also. At the end of “Rewrite” he said an adorable little “thank you” while turning his palms up above him.
The a cappella start to “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” was as beautiful as anything he’s done live with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. For the encore it was just Simon on acoustic guitar playing a long intro to “The Sound of Silence” that incorporated some of “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” and, again, even though it’s an almost 70 year old man singing a young man’s lament you never doubted the truth of what he was singing. The room was quiet except for one idiot yelling out just before the end.
For the second encore a second microphone was set up and there was hopes of seeing Garfunkel but then I saw that shock of white hair and screamed because David Byrne was in the house! Dressed in a pink striped shirt and pink pants he looked typically David and launched into “Road to Nowhere” with Simon providing back-up and Byrne ending on this strong gorgeous full high note. They also performed “You Can Call Me Al” with Byrne doing the first verse. Byrne fell backwards while dancing and Simon kept joking throughout about being careful, it’s slippery, and suing the Hall.
The band exited at 10:40pm and if they’d come out again we all would have stayed. I think if Paul Simon did a marathon of all his songs we would have stayed for the week or so it would have taken to hear all of them.
For some great photos and video of Paul and David go there:
Encore (solo acoustic)
Encore (with band)
Encore (with David Byrne and band)
Encore (with band)
By Carene Lydia Lopez