Sunday, 3 July 2011

2011 Summer of Gigs #7 – Paul Simon at the Hammersmith Apollo

Despite being one of my favourite artists for as long as I can remember, Paul Simon’s never really been on the tip of my tongue when I’ve splurted out the acts that I *MUST SEE LIVE!!!* over the years – I’ve always had the impression that he’s not particularly exciting as a performer and his show might veer on the dull side. Nevertheless, I certainly didn’t have any reluctance to see him, demonstrated by the excitement when I first heard he was due to play in London, and then the excrutiating experience of being too ill to attend the show when it came around. Or so I thought. Unbeknownst to me Paul had been suffering from a throat infection, which diminished – in his mind at least – his appearance at Glastonbury (it’s true he doesn’t look that well in the footage, but he still sounds more than decent), and saw his London gig postponed by 24 hours, just enough time to ensure Cinderella got to go to the ball (Yes, I’m Cinderella in this scenario, you got a problem with that? Hahahaha).

Seeing him actually confirmed my long-held suspicions regarding his stage presence – he rarely communicated with the crowd (although when he did he did so with warmth and affection, this isn’t Bob Dylan we’re talking about here...) and planted himself firmly in the same square metre of stage-space for the entire two hours. And it wasn’t dull for a single moment. With a stunningly adept 8-piece band and an incredibly rich catalogue of songs to trawl through he had the audience with him completely from the opening notes of the first song.

About half of the set came from two albums – the new (and wonderful) So Beautiful or So What and the seminal Graceland (although the fact that the latter album has just turned 25 years old appears to be purely coincidental – this wasn’t an anniversary cash-in job). Simon cherry-picked the very best songs from the new album (the title track, Dazzling Blue and Rewrite amongst them) but turned to some interesting choices from Graceland opening with borderline-obscure Crazy Love, Vol. II and also sprinkling in the likes of Gumboots and That Was Your Mother – a tune I’ve never really cared for, but which worked a treat live. However it was a mid-set Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes that got the audience up and moving – no mean feat for a (mostly) seated venue (I don’t know , give an audience seats and they’ll sit in them, never understood that when it comes to gigs...).

Personal favourite The Obvious Child was another crowd pleaser (and I was delighted not to be the only member of the audience to know the percussion outro by heart and not be afraid to play it!) but with a great mix of album tracks (Hearts and Bones, Peace Like a River) and smash hits (Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, Slip Slidin’ Away, Mother and Child Reunion) plus the odd snatch of cover – Hearts and Bones sequed into Mystery Train, for example – you’d have had to be from 1970 to be disappointed. By that I mean this was a show almost entirely devoid of Simon and Garfunkel tunes – only the splendid The Only Living Boy in New York and The Sound of Silence (the latter presented as a solo acoustic number) received an airing.

Still, with two generous encores offering up the likes of Kodachrome, The Boy in the Bubble, Late in the Evening and the roof-shattering closer You Can Call Me Al, even a hard-core S&G devotee would have to concede that Simon has delivered plenty of exceptional material as a solo artist. While he might not be the most exciting of stage acts he has the songs to carry the show for him. And they did that and then some – definitely more a ‘so beautiful’ than a ‘so what’ event, that’s for sure. Commiserations to those who missed it – especially the poor sods who would have made it for the originally scheduled date, and were represented only by a handful of conspicuously unfilled seats – but I appreciate your sacrifice. (9/10)

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