As soon as the funky accordion lines of The Boy In The Bubble came through the speakers, everyone present at the Vic Theater knew they were in for something special. Why? Well for one, nobody quite knew what they were in from Paul Simon on this crisp spring day. Would he play the old stuff, the older stuff, or keep to the material off of his brand new album – which is probably his best release in some time. The short answer; he would play it all. But the set-list, which began with that wonderfully groovy song off of “Graceland” (which is by the way, considered by most music critics to be one of the best albums ever created), was not the only reason why unusual levels of tangible excitement floated through the venue on this evening. It was because the venue, the revered Vic Theater, only holds about 1200 people. With it’s large balcony, and tiered standing room floor, everyone in the room got to be up-close and personal with an artist who routinely sells out massive venues, headlines festivals, and has even packed Central Park. To say it was a special show would be a gross understatement.
Paul Simon, who will be 70 in October, ended up playing an impressive 24 songs over 2 hours. And that would be impressive for a 20 year old. But Paul Simon, just like his music, is apparently timeless. Paul brought with him an 8 piece band, a few of which played multiple instruments, which is necessary when playing for Paul because his music takes on so many different cultural influences that demand for a variety of different instruments from song to song. And while it would have been nice to have Ladysmith Black Mambazo there to give the “Graceland” songs that authentic African-influenced feel, his talented band was able to replicate the wide spectrum of sounds his song-library requires.
Another wonderful aspect of this show was that the sound inside the Vic was absolutely perfect. This author at first had in -9db ear plugs, as always, but soon found that one could take them out – the volume was at a perfect level of being energetic but not being loud just for the sake of it. This meant that every nuance of the music came through, which greatly helps Paul’s songs that often call for sonic complexity. It also meant that you could hear his crystal-clear, age-defying, voice as clear as a bell.
Even better than the sound though was the song selection. The set-list contained a number of the choice songs off of his most recent album, “So Beautiful or So What”, a handful of special tracks off of the magnificent “Graceland”, and the rest were a pleasant mix of songs taken from various albums over the last few decades. And then there was also the treat, enjoyed in hushed silence by a stunned crowd, of Paul playing Sound Of Silence, the song that propelled Simon & Garfunkel to popularity in 1964. Paul played this song solo after the first encore, and the excited crowd which had just momentarily before been screaming their lungs out for more music quickly shut up into stunned silence for this significant song.
There was also some unexpected and fun cover songs. There was a fun version of Jimmy Cliff’s reggae hit Vietnam, a jam band ‘esque version of Junior Parker’s Mystery Train, and a poignantly positive rendition of The Beatles Here Comes The Sun. Paul was clearly sharing with us some of his important influences from decades back, all 3 songs were surprises for the crowd, and all 3 turned out to be solid choices for placating the crowd as well as Paul.
Other highlights included Slip Sliding Away, Rewrite, Kodachrome, Gumboots, So Beautiful or So What, and Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes. The last song in particular seemed to really hit the crowd hard. Yeah, everyone was wanting it, expecting it, but it still had a seizing effect upon the crowd as that renowned mellow grove emanated from the stage. But really, looking back on it, it is hard to say that certain songs really came off better than others. They were all played extremely well, and the set-list was designed superbly (both in content and flow), and the result was that odd concert experience where literally every single song was received well – there were no peaks and valleys – just one awesome musical plateau. Of course there were changes in the energy and tempo of the songs, but not in the evident revelry of the crowd throughout each and every song. Just about the only thing that wasn’t played, and was probably expected by many, was You Can Call Me Al – but that omission was actually just fine as there was no need to play his most known “pop” song to a limited collection of his most ardent admirers.
But what was so interesting and memorable about this show outside of the set-list was the excited diversity of the crowd. From young to old, everyone who was there was so because they loved the timeless music of Paul Simon. How does this man continue to create music which appeals to the first fans he created in the 60’s, yet also to the contemporary crowd of the time of the album, and for future fans? The man played a set-list which contained music created from within the last 5 decades, yet if someone who was unfamiliar with his material attended this show, they would think they must be watching a popular contemporary musician – due to the over the top energy in the room.
I guess creating music like that is how you become a legend… Thank you Mr. Simon for playing such an intimate show, in such a small venue, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You didn’t have to play that show, in fact you were probably given the advice not to. But in doing so you created for one of the most memorable shows this author will ever have the pleasure of attending. Plus, it seemed like you thoroughly enjoyed yourself as well.
By Sean Brna
p.s. Below is the setlist for the night. If you have the chance to see Paul Simon on tour, do so!!!
The Boy in the Bubble
50 Ways to Leave your Lover
So Beautiful or So What
Vietnam (jimmy Cliff Cover)
Mother and Child Reunion
That was your Mother
Hearts and Bones
Mystery Tain (Jam Cover of Junior Parker Song)
Slip Sliddin’ Away
Peace Like a River
The Only Living Boy in New York
The Cool, Cool River
Getting Ready For Christmas Day
Diamonds on the Soles of her shoes
Sound Of Silence
Gone at last
Here Comes The Sun (Beatles Cover)
Late in the evening
Crazy love, Vol II