Report: Paul Simon Live in Hollywood, Fla.

 

Last
week (December 6), the beloved bard took the stage at Hard Rock Live and
revisited the soundtrack to many lives.

 

By Lee Zimmerman

At age 70 Paul Simon belongs to an elite but aging artistic
fraternity whose membership also includes Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Kris
Kristofferson, singer/songwriters whose work is ingrained in the very fiber of
popular culture. These are artists whose revered reputations and esteemed
pedigrees elevate any encounter beyond that of mere entertainment and into
realms reserved for great masters who have the power to enthrall, inspire and
evoke memories and emotions on an scale that only the most hallowed musicians ever
achieve. Even with a solo career now in its fifth decade, the music Simon made
with partner Art Garfunkel still remains a vital part of the soundtrack to his
audience’s lives, a tethered connection that remains as vital and vibrant now
as it ever was before.

 

Consequently, there’s little doubt there were some in the
sell-out crowd at Tuesday night’s concert at Hard Rock Live who would have
preferred to have seen Simon with his old partner in tow. He attempted to
placate those fans only marginally with token renditions of the duo’s gilded
staples “Only Living Boy in New York
City” and “The Sounds of Silence,” the latter of which
was performed solo and predictably reserved for the first of two encores.
Likewise, giddy standards like “Mother and Child Reunion,” “Late in the
Evening,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, “Kodachrome” and “Graceland”
also elicited enthusiastic reactions with a crowd that made it apparent they
were eager for some nostalgia. 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 catalogue 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 less 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 prevalent in songs such as “My Little Town” and
“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.

 

“It’s good to have a couple
thousand new friends,” he joked early on, one of the few times he addressed the
crowd at length. “I’m happy to be here. Of course, I say that every night. But
sometimes there’s something that occurs between the band and the audience, a
transfer of energy that ultimately determines whether I really am or not. So
we’ll have to take that up later.” Those holding their breath in anticipation
never got to hear his final verdict, but judging from both the performance and
the way it was received, the appreciation was profound.

 

Set
list

 

The Boy in
the Bubble

Dazzling Blue
50 Ways to
Leave Your Lover

Afterlife
Mother and
Child Reunion

That Was Your
Mother

Hearts and Bones /Mystery
Train/Wheels

Slip Slidin’ Away
Rewrite
My Little Town
The Obvious Child
The Only
Living Boy in New York

Love Is Eternal
Diamonds on
the Soles of Her Shoes

Late in the Evening

Encore:

The Sound of
Silence

Kodachrome /
Gone at Last

Here Comes
the Sun
 
Gumboots

Encore 2:

Graceland/Pretty Thing
Still Crazy
After All These Years

 

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