26th March 2001
In October 2000, Paul Simon toured Europe in support of his then new album You're the One. ([amazon.com], or [amazon.co.uk]) I went to the second of the three London shows at Hammersmith Odeon, on Monday 24th October, and wrote a review which I sent to the administrators of the Lasers in the Jungle site at paul.simon.org. for them to include on their (empty!) concert-review page at paul.simon.org/tour/london2.htm (compare this with the much better page about the first London show, at paul.simon.org/tour/london1.htm.)
Anyway, I never heard back from them, and the review page is still empty, so I thought I way as well post the review on my own site instead.
Ha. You can't censor me, LitJ-meisters! I have my own site :-)
With one exception, which I'll come to later, the set list was the same as for the second Hamburg show, although there may have been one or two changes in the order - I wasn't taking notes. I won't go through the set song by song, as others have done that. I'll just make general comments and pick out a few highlights.
First thing to say is that the new material was very well represented, and quite right too. The seven songs taken from You're The One made it by far the best-represented of Simon's albums, followed by Graceland (five songs). Apart from that, the coverage was impressively even: while no other of his albums provided more than three songs to the set, every PS and S&G album was represented with the exceptions of Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., and Songs from the Capeman. (Hmm, I would have loved to hear Born in Puerto Rico or Trailways Bus, but what would I have wanted him to drop from the set to fit it in? Difficult ... Maybe the over-rated Fifty Ways?) Anyway, seems to me it's a healthy thing to have so much emphasis on the new material, which is well worth its place, and I can only echo the comments of the other reviewer who felt perplexed that so few of the audience seemed to be familiar with the new songs. Their loss; if they have half a brain, they'll have gone straight to their local music shops on Tuesday morning.
The second thing I noticed was that pretty much all of the songs sounded much more muscular live than in their studio versions: the Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints material in particular all had a punch about them that isn't there in the canonical versions - in fact, coming back and listening to Saints, the originals of songs like Proof sound almost weedy in comparison. (And by the way, you have to salute someone who can deliver lines like ``Some people gonna call you up, tell you something that you already know / Same people going crazy at you saying, that's not the deal we made, I got to go, I got to go'' in a live setting with real conviction!)
Anyway, these more driving interpretations of the African and South American songs worked really well in concert. (And by the way, hearing the new songs live made me much more aware of the African and South American influences in them.) If I had a criticism of the concert, it would be that the set was a bit stop-start. The ordering of the songs didn't make that much sense to me. Having started with the gorgeous but contemplative That's Where I Belong, the band then got the place rocking with Graceland; but no sooner had it achieved that than it dropped the pace back with One Man's Ceiling. Likewise moving from Me and Julio to The Teacher. Ah, never mind. I was there to listen and to connect, not to dance. (And anyway, I couldn't have danced even if I'd wanted to - in that respect I am the whitest guy you ever met :-)
You're the One followed Ceiling. Can I just draw attention to the fact that the lyric of this song contains perhaps the all-time quintessential Paul Simon lyric: ``Maybe that's a waste of angels, I don't know.'' Isn't that just marvellous? Time for me to go register the domain wasteofangels.com before someone else thinks of it!
There were two very strong sequences in the middle of the set: first the back-to-back pairing of Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes and You Can Call Me Al, then the short set of old S&G material. For me, Old Friends/Bookends was perhaps the most affecting part of the whole concert. Don't get me wrong, the band is excellent (all those drummers! All those guitars! All those ... things!) But there's something special about Paul Simon, all alone, with just a guitar, a voice, and an undemonstratively melancholy song.
Another lump-in-the-throat moment for me came with Pledging My Love. Not having read reviews of the earlier shows, I didn't know what this song was. I assumed it was one of Simon's own very old Tom-and-Jerry era songs. When he told us it was a Johnny Ace song, the first record he'd ever bought, it came as a real shock. Going into The Late Great Johnny Ace from there was really moving. The first verse's crystal-clear, economical but picturesque evocation of childhood's innocent response to tragedy had never cut through me so cleanly before.
A funny moment in Late in the Evening. I and the friend I was with have always found it amusing how the Central Park audience all cheer the line ``stepped outside to smoke myself a J.'', so we wondered whether the mostly fifty-something Hammersmith audience would do the same thing. When the line came, about three people cheered; then they somehow contrived to sound embarrassed without actually making a sound! This is another song, by the way, that got a very chunky, dynamic treatment. And what a brass section!
One word on the Kodachrome reinterpretation: ``no''.
The set closed with a pretty much apocalyptic rendition of Proof, followed by the inevitable encore: a surprisingly contemporary rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water. I guess if Simon's going to do that song at all, he really has no option but to do it very differently from the classic piano-dominated arrangement, because that version is so inextricably linked in everyone's mind with the voice of Art Garfunkel. My feeling is that the new version works. Not as well as the new I Am A Rock, but much better than the new Kodachrome! But, but ... I still can't help wishing he'd done Jonah or Long Long Day instead.
Finally, in the second and last encore, the one change from the Hamburg set - and what a change. Instead of finishing with The Boxer, Simon closed the set with the classic Still Crazy After All These Years. I've always loved this song, but at Hammersmith, it took on a new and very different beauty. In the album version, I've always read Still Crazy as a song of denial, of self-deception: the words are those of someone careering headlong towards middle age and protesting too much, trying to convince himself as much as anyone else that he's still young at heart. But finishing the set on Monday, the meaning of song flipped through a full 180 degrees, and became a legitimate celebration of longevity. Maybe I'm imagining it, but it seemed to me that this interpretation was saying, ``Yes OK, so I'm nearly sixty; but I've got a new album out and I'm touring and I'm still having fun!'' It felt like a gentle, shared in-joke - if you can share a joke between four thousand odd people. Great song selection: it was a wholly appropriate and profoundly beautiful end to a wonderful evening.
And I've been listening to Paul Simon music - particularly You're The One - pretty much constantly since Monday. Every time I start to listen to anything else, it seems thin and trivial in contrast. As we speak, I am listening to my old (vinyl!) copy of Concert in Central Park. The last thing I want to do is get all hagiographical here, but the plain fact of the matter is that Simon the song-writer is a superhuman genius, and his performances have always been good enough to imbue his creations with life. He's created a legacy of music that makes this world a much better place to live than it would otherwise be.
Not a cheap concert ... But such good value!
|1964||Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.||Nothing|
|1965||The Paul Simon Songbook||Nothing|
|1966||Sounds Of Silence||I Am A Rock|
|1966||Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme||Homeward Bound|
|1968||The Graduate (Soundtrack)||Nothing|
|1968||Bookends||Old Friends, Bookends Theme|
|1970||Bridge Over Troubled Water||Bridge Over Troubled Water|
|1972||Paul Simon||Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard|
|1973||There Goes Rhymin' Simon||Kodachrome, One Man's Ceiling is Another Man's Floor, American Tune|
|1975||Still Crazy After All These Years||Still Crazy After All These Years, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover|
|1980||One Trick Pony||Late in the Evening|
|1983||Hearts and Bones||The Late Great Johnny Ace|
|1986||Graceland||The Boy in the Bubble, Graceland, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, You Can Call Me Al, That Was Your Mother|
|1990||The Rhythm of the Saints||The Coast, Proof, Spirit Voices|
|1997||Songs from The Capeman||Nothing|
|2000||You're the One||That's Where I Belong, Darling Lorraine, Old, You're The One, The Teacher, Look At That, Hurricane Eye|
|N/A||other||Johnny Ace's ``Pledging My Love''|