Live: Paul Simon at Hard Rock Live, December 6
|Photo by Mark Seliger|
Fortunately for the faithful, Simon seemed eager to oblige; with a tour that's touting a new two-disc retrospective, Paul Simon Songwriter, the set list cherry-picked songs from all phases of his career. Only a couple of selections from his latest offering of all new music, the well-received So Beautiful or So What, were also included, although with a catalog as vast and beloved as his, he wisely chose to diversify the set to embrace the obvious crowd pleasers along with the occasional song that was perhaps lesser-known. Among the few surprises he had in store was a heartfelt cover of "Here Comes the Sun," which he famously once performed on Saturday Night Live in the company of its composer, George Harrison.
Simon may be older than the average rock star at this point, but he still retains a spry posture that belies any assumption about age. Slight in stature but assertive and authoritative in his presence, he even allowed himself to sometimes strut about, acting more the showman than the semi-serious artiste that he often portrays for the public. The essential jubilation in much of his music comes through in concert much more so than on record, given that his versatile eight-piece backing band -- Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, guitarist/drummer Jim Oblon, pianist Mick Rossi, saxophonist/keyboardist Andrew Snitzer, bassist Bakithi Kumalo, guitarist Mark Stewart, master percussionist Jamey Haddad, and multi-instrumentalist Tony Cedras -- seem adept at adjusting the timbre and tempo for sounds that range from inspirational ballads to the zest of zydeco; some cool, casual swing; and frequent hints of archetypical pop and rock.
The profundity of Simon's lyrics -- so prevelant in songs such as "My Little Town" amd "Still Crazy After All These Years," the sixth and final encore -- is still evident, of course, but the rich, vibrant, and fastidious arrangements as well as an inherent sense of celebration emitted from both the man and his music gave the performance its true sense of purpose. In song after song -- be it the arch loneliness of "Only Living Boy in New York City," the reverential revival of "Love Is Eternal," or the inherent urgency of "My Little Town" -- Simon brought the material full circle, bringing out both richness and nuance while charming his audience in the process.
Random detail: Simon's standard stage garb hasn't changed much over the past 40-plus years. Dark jacket and white T-shirt reinforce his cool, casual image.
By the way: The opening act, a five-piece outfit from Nashville named Wild Feathers, performed a solid half-hour set of capable if conventional country rock, replete with immaculate four-part harmonies. Although they didn't seem necessarily compatible with Simon's sound, the crowd gave them a hospitable reception nevertheless.