My wonderful sister and brother-in-law bought me quite a birthday present last month:
tickets to Paul Simon's April 15 Seattle show, the first one of the tour.
Gina and I had a fabulous time, as it was a gig to remember. Where do I start? The setlist was a terrific cross-section of Simon's catalog, from about half of the new, superb
So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music) to a few Simon & Garfunkel-era tunes to something from nearly every solo album. And a band (eight musicians besides Simon, who all played more than one instrument) brimming over with irreverence and texture. The sounds of deep bass and drums, interlocking Afropop guitars, keyboards, horns, accordion and even steel guitar popped through the mix in unexpected places--meaning, in all the right places.
We took in one remarkable song after another: "Hearts and Bones," "The Obvious Child," "Father and Daughter," "Peace Like a River," "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," "Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes," "The Sounds of Silence" (Paul in a stirring
solo version), "The Only Living Boy In New York," "Late In the Evening"--even "Gone at Last," which I thought I'd never hear (the radio never plays that one).
Two or more surprises were not Simon originals: He combined "Mystery Train" with something he said was by Chet Atkins; the second encore began with "Here Comes the Sun," which Simon performed with the personable Mark Stewart. (I looked at the website of Mark Stuart, Stacey Earle's husband, to see if it was the same person--it
wasn't.) My guess is that the George Harrison song was performed to commemorate Simon and Harrison playing it together on "Saturday Night Live," circa 1976.
I should mention that while Simon was basically in excellent voice, he had a little trouble
holding long notes and nailing some of the nuances of those tricky and amazing melodies he has written. It's a bit startling to hear those imperfections when you know that practically every recording Paul Simon has ever made--especially since going solo--sounds exactly the way he wanted it to sound. But for heaven's sake, he will be 70
years old in October. What Paul Simon and band put across was communication of the highest order, and it moved our hearts as well. A truly great show.
The concert marked the 20th anniversary of Seattle radio station KMTT, which was once a rich listening experience but not now. What they play is utterly obvious, in the main. When three of the station's best known announcers came out to bring Simon to the stage and tooted their own horn about the music they play that's "off the beaten path," they had to be glad that I wasn't close to the stage. Because I really wanted to yell out, "Right--'Brass In Pocket' every day!"