No one has been better at combining a pop music sensibility with world music than Paul Simon. Simon and his excellent band gave the enthusiastic crowd at the Botanical Garden a tour of his extensive songbook Monday night. It was a pleasure and a delight.
The band was a little ragged at the start, but over the course of the evening jelled around the wonderful guitar work of Vincent Nguini, who introduced one of Simon’s songs.
But, without question, the star of the show was Paul Simon and his music. The songs ranged from stuff as early as “Homeward Bound”1 from Sounds of Silence to “Wristband” and “Werewolf” from the unreleased album, Stranger to Stranger. That’s an incredible 50-year span, 1966 – 2016.
Along the way we were treated to a beautifully blues-themed “Slip-Sliding Away,” a zydeco treat in “That Was Your Mother,” a version of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” that acknowledged the tune’s urban roots and a Brazillian rhythmed, knock-out version of “Spirit Voices” from Rhythm of the Saints, to name just a few. “Spirit Voices” was the only song that Simon introduced with a background story; as ever, Simon lets his music do the talking.2
But the musical star of the show was Graceland, probably Simon’s greatest album. We heard “Boy in the Bubble,” “Graceland,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” “You Can Call Me Al” and “That Was Your Mother,” to name a few. Bakithi Kumalo’s excellent guitar work highlighted the Graceland songs.
The cuts from the unreleased album, Stranger to Stranger were interesting. “Werewolf” featured a didgeridoo and some very credible werewolf howls, and “Wristband,” a song that starts out self-mocking and ends up as overtly a political message as WC can recall in a Paul Simon song. WC looks forward to the new album.
Simon gave us two encores, and the songs he chose to include were insightful: “Still Crazy” and “The Boxer,” both largely autobiographical. Simon has had musical triumphs like Graceland and disasters like Capeman. But he continues to bring that pop sensibility to world music. He continues to write relevant music at age 74. And he continues to give his audiences wonderful live shows.
A terrific evening of wonderful music. A great start to the Botanical Garden’s summer concert series.
- The 45 rpm release of “Homeward Bound” was the first record WC bought. It was played so many times on WC’s cheap record player that the 45 was worn out. ↩
- When WC saw Simon & Garfunkel in 1969 in Eugene, Oregon, the two didn’t speak a word the entire show. They just sang. And barely moved to their music. ↩