Next week Paul Simon will release In The Blue Light, an album reworking some of his songs he thought “were almost right, or were odd enough to be overlooked the first time around”. That means new arrangements, harmonic structures and even lyrics. Egads!
(Fascinating, actually, and a sign for those who have not been paying attention to his more recent impressive albums, that there’s plenty of edge left in him.)
Anyway, that was enough excuse for Wind Back Wednesday to take a look at his 2013 tour when radical reinvention wasn’t on the bill, though surprises were still to be had.
GET UP AND DANCE GRANDPA, YOU’RE NOT DEAD YET
Entertainment Centre, April 2
We expect it don’t we? And fair enough too as it’s the voice which always goes and hurts the most as it does so, despite the fact its departure is as predictable as a late career move into the classic American songbook.
The dancing or the shredding or the memory for lyrics can be covered by others or machines but the voice inevitably roughens in the 40s, fades in the 50s and must be carefully treated by the 60s.
Except for Paul Simon. In his 70s, Simon’s voice is as gentle, unsullied and exact as it was when he was standing next to Art Garfunkel in matching black skivvies.
It is quite startling to hear it sound exactly like it has every time you played one of those records: skipping sweetly in Gumboots, cutting to your heart without you noticing the incision in Hearts And Bones, gliding in the triple Simon& Garfunkel flurry of the third encore or playfully bouncing off the current band’s approximation of the Soweto choir in Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes.
Speaking of the band, if they don’t have the bulk and depth of some of the big ensembles Simon used, in particular at the height of the Graceland tours 25 years ago, they don't lack for quality.
Almost all of the eight men were superb multi-instrumentalists, from brass and wind to multiple percussionists and guitarists, organ and cello - able to cover the range of Simon’s interests from the barrio to the township to the shotgun shack and the Lower East Side folk cafe.
But it is one corner of the band which does get to the start of why this show, as good as it was, never quite got to great.
The bass was so blurry and anonymous, its notes indistinct, for so much of the night that the rhythmic push of songs was submerged, at least until Diamonds On The Soles…, the penultimate song of the main set.
As Simon is still more a reserved than a natural showman and his melodies rarely demanding, that bottom-end drive plays a vital role in live momentum.
It was some, but only some, excuse for another typically sedentary middle-aged audience who somehow couldn’t find the energy to get up and move in songs made for mild hip shaking until the end of the first encore when You Can Call Me Al prompted mild hysteria.
I doubt I was the only one wistfully regretting not being part of the up-and-mobile zest of the weekend’s Blues Festival performances.
Someone should remind audiences going in that the energy you give is returned with interest in the best shows. Even songs as brilliant as these need us to make a show rise.
In The Blue Light will be released on September 7