On my bucket list of things to do before I go to meet my Maker, was to get to hear one of our national treasures play and sing—- Paul Simon. The clock has been ticking on this one increasingly loudly because Paul Simon after all is 70…..70!! Which of course is a testimony to how old I am as well. I have already reviewed his fabulous recent album ‘So Beautiful..or So What’ on this blog so you can seek that out. In my book, it should win album of the year at the Grammys— hands down. Nothing else close. It is full of profound songs about God, the afterlife, and other interesting subjects. Simon actually read my review and commented on it in Songwriter magazine. He was intrigued that I had said the Holy Spirit was working through him.
Yesterday was definitely the wrong day for me to go see Paul Simon. I got up at 4 in San Francisco returning from the national SBL meeting, went to the airport and my flight was delayed by an hour and a half. This meant I actually left at 11 a.m. eastern time……and the concert was at 7:30 in Highland Heights Kentucky. When I got to Atlanta, my flight to Lexington which would have gotten me home at 4:30….time enough to drive the hour and a half to the concert……was long gone. SOoooooo….. I devised plan B. Fly to Cinci, and get my buddy Jeff James to pick me up, with his having snuck into my house and grabbed the tickets first. So…. I land in Cinci at 6:15…. we hop in the car. My luggage meanwhile went to Lex, and we arrive at 7 for the concert—– amazing. Of course, I was totally shattered, as the British would say, by the time I sat down for the concert. But exhaustion was no match for my enthusiasm to finally see one of my musical heroes.
The show was held in a basketball arena at Northern Kentucky U. in Highland Heights. Acoustically, it was not great, but not terrible. The trouble came when there were a lot of instruments playing loud, and then the sound got muddy. Otherwise, it was alright. The show began with the Punch Brothers. And those brothers have punch for sure!! They are the best young bluegrass players in the land…… from N.Y. no less! They played for 30 minutes— they played with zip, accurately, with excellent vocals. They have in fact played on some Paul Simon lps recently as well. Those dogs will hunt! I recommend their CDs. And of course it was like playing to the home team, since that music is from this region (see Renfro Valley). They finished with a song about bourbon…… need I say more.
About 8:15ish Paul and his band came on stage to much acclaim. And it was a big band—- about 8 other musicians who could play anything from washboard to saxaphone to Hammond B3. The word versatile is too plebian to describe what they could do. In terms of the repertoire as one might expect we got a largish selection from Paul’s solo lps, with several cuts from the new So Beautiful or So What. If you were looking for Simon and Garfunkel tunes there was only a solitaire—- ‘Sounds of Silence’ near the end of the concert.
We could have used a few more of those old solo acoustic numbers sprinkled in. Instead, we got zydeco, world music, jazz, syncopated rock…. the good stuff from Graceland, Rhythm of the Saints, a bunch from Still Crazy after All These Years. Paul was generous with his time and encores…and the show was not over until 10:15. Somehow he probably realized this was a once and once only sort of gig…. as Seals and Crofts once said ‘we shall never pass this way again’.
The over-riding impression left was of very skilled musicians playing complex songs of various genre in various keys and time signatures (don’t try this at home), which in fact is almost never in evidence in contemporary pop music. What passes for music in the hip hop and rap generation is too often: 1) sampling from earlier music; 2) compensating for lack of musical ability to play instruments by cooking something up on the computer/synthesizer; 3) over-dubbing, sprinkling in large doses of profanity and Yo…. Yo…..Yo (your boat gently down the stream). I have little patience with such non-music. And in case you are wondering I love African and African American music ranging from soul to jazz. Part of the joy of this concert is that Paul Simon was no problems being an ensemble player who allows others to solo and be the star of this song or that.
If you are wondering about his 70 year old voice, he sounded good, indeed he sounded just like he has for over 40 years. There were a couple of places where he ran out of breath for the high notes, but at other times he had his full range and the clarity was great. The only thing missing from the concert was a guest appearance by Arty his long time partner, and a few S+G songs done together with solo guitar. There was however one other blast from the past. Paul did a tribute to George Harrison, singing a sweet and lovely version of ‘Here Comes the Sun’. George was the same age as Paul.
I learned how to play acoustic 6 and 12 string in part by learning some of Paul’s early songs like ‘The Sounds of Silence’ or ‘I Am a Rock’…so for me this was a mentor and child reunion, so to speak. I will post some pics in a later post.
From Diamonds on the Souls of her Shoes to Kodachrome to Still Crazy, to the Sounds of Silence, to the Afterlife we sat mesmerized and blessed, pinching ourselves (partly to stay awake, partly because we couldn’t believe we got to see this show finally). If you have a chance to go in Akron or N.J. or N.C. in the upcoming shows…. sell the dog and buy the tickets. It will be worth it.