Outstanding Simon keeps his Irish customers satisfied

Sat, Jul 14, 2012, 01:00

WHAT CAN even this adoring fan say about an artist capable of thrilling an audience with a repertoire of great songs while leaving so many more great songs unsung?

Paul Simon is in a proven class of his own as a singer, songwriter and musician, yet he is also a terrific live performer, as generous to his audience as he is to his musicians.

His lyrics are profound, often emotional, always nuanced with a saving irony. The recession continues apace and the summer weather may have entered the realm of science fiction, but the crowds gathering in Dublin’s O2 to hear the greatest songwriter of our time open his Graceland 25th anniversary tour were smiling on arrival and still greedily ecstatic at the end, cajoling him for another encore.

Had the great man decided to sing his entire oeuvre we were ready to set up camp and listen, however many days and nights it took.

The O2 is a vast amphitheatre and, packed as it was, was a daunting sight. But the man in the white fedora looking up towards the packed tiers from the stage seemed relaxed. Simon no doubt owns as many hats as he does guitars and remains slightly bemused by life, if less wistful, more content, than his younger self. Content, though never complacent, at 70 he moved with more energy and enthusiasm than many of his far younger fans. Judging by the range of teenagers to grandparents, Simon appeals to all generations.

Interestingly, whereas many of the women were gleeful and happy, middle-aged men in particular were, by contrast, noticeably moved. Simon has always maintained that when writing a song he always looks for a truth in the first line, and he certainly finds it.

Opening with Kodachrome and Gone at Last with Dazzling Blue from the So Beautiful or So What album, Simon immediately established that his mellow, deceptively robust voice is as good as ever. His eight-man band were quality musicians and as early as Hearts and Bones and Slip Slidin’ Away, there was a steady beat of audience feet keeping time.

However beautiful a Paul Simon tune is, it is also invariably catchy. A lively rendition of The Obvious Child track from The Rhythm of the Saints (1990) set the scene for Simon’s introducing the singers of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, an integral part of the iconic Graceland album.

Homeless sounded as fresh as it did when Simon first walked into a political minefield all those years ago when alerting the world to the music of a people suppressed by “one of the worst regimes on the planet”.

Always calm, always reasonable, the astute and intelligent Simon backed by his beliefs and his international status withstood the critics and instead championed black South African musicians through music. The three screens arranged behind the stage provided an eloquent backdrop. Considering that Simon is the most meticulous of recording artists with superlative production values honed from early on by sound engineer Roy Halee, who also worked on the Graceland album, he is an inspired improviser and always injects a new detail.

The Boy in the Bubble, the musical equivalent of a Don DeLillo novel, rang out with prophetic authority and chilling intent, while Simon’s duet, Under African Skies, with Thandiswa Maznai filling the space left by the late Miriam Makeba. You Can Call Me Al caused the audience to stand as one and dance about.

Arms were raised, as was a crutch, suggesting that even the lame were feeling better. Simon’s solo acoustic rendition of The Sound of Silence, written 50 years ago, followed by The Boxer, was a masterclass in sophisticated simplicity.

Yet again Simon demonstrated his perceptive, lyrical and rhythmic artistry. When is he coming back?