There goes Rhymin’ Simon
Sometimes, we can take artists like Paul Simon for granted. He’s in the master collection, for sure. Those albums with Art Garfunkel, the early solo records, the magnificent exuberence of “Graceland”: Simon has produced a body of work which has …
Sometimes, we can take artists like Paul Simon for granted. He’s in the master collection, for sure. Those albums with Art Garfunkel, the early solo records, the magnificent exuberence of “Graceland”: Simon has produced a body of work which has both bent to the will of the times and probably helped to define some of those eras too. There’s always been a permanent feeling of curiosity to his sounds, a sense that he’s never been happy to just do what his peers have done. He was always looking for something else.
He’s still at it today. Simon’s latest album “So Beautiful Or So What” is a beautiful, engaging, warm-hearted set of songs. There are spry, gleeful, gleaming Afropop guitars providing the scaffolding for nimble songs where the soon-to-be-70-year-old muses on the philosophies of life and death. It’s a humdinger which deserves an audience.
I wonder how many of those who trotted down to Vicar Street for last night’s event gig (Simon joining a long list of big-room acts like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Kanye West and Justin Timberlake who’d played such shows at the Thomas Street venue) had listened to the album before the show. In years gone by, you’d have already checked out and analysed the new album long before you went to the show. In the topsy-turvey new-music-biz world, chances are that just doesn’t happen. Now, the album is there to plug the tour rather than the act touring to plug the album. You make your money and your traction on the road.
Simon’s show was a masterclass in how to join the dots between the past and present. Sure, he played the hits from various stages of his career, but those new songs flourished in such lofty company. Between the nods to “Graceland” with “Boy In the Bubble”, “Diamonds On the Soles Of Her Shoes” and a lusty “That Was Your Mother” (you quickly realise that Vampire Weekend were ripping off, sorry, “influenced by” the sounds of “Graceland” and not, as they claimed, some tapes of Afrojive) and those glorious fleece-wrapped memories from the very old days like “Kodachrome” and “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”, there was the beautiful shape-throwing of the new album’s title track or the playful rhymes of “The Afterlife”. Even the covers pebbledashed throughout the show – a tough take on Jimmy Cliff’s “Vietnam” to place “Mother And Child Reunion” in the context of its Jamaican birth, “Mystery Train”, “Here Comes the Sun” – were perfectly chosen.
There’s more than just Simon onstage. The eight-strong cast of musicians with him add spectacular flourishes and shades to the song. The playing is subtle, unforced and sympathetic to how the leader wants to pitch those songs because those songs really are the show. “The Sound Of Silence” may be 47 years old and may well have been played thousands – millions? – of time by now, but it hasn’t grown old. When Simon sings it, the room is naturally bathed in silence as memories flow.
They really aren’t making ‘em like Simon any more. It’s taken decades of songcraft and stagecraft to produce a show of such exquisite quality. I’d seen Simon twice before, once when he brought a boisterous “Graceland” show to Dublin back in 1987 (1987!) and once in 2004 when he had reunited with Garfunkel, but the understated panache and poise of last night’s gig shows that Simon has perfectly captured where he is right now. Sure, he’s looking back (the crowd are certainly demanding that), but those new songs and the new record indicate that he’s still motivated to keep kicking, prying and asking questions. He won’t be around forever – these musical veterans eventually stop, as seen by the death at the weekend of the great Clarence Clemons – but it’s reassuring to know that he’s not prepared to go quietly into the night.