Paul Simon Live: ‘A Gem of a Concert’

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Paul Simon & Band (crop)Paul Simon
Pinewood Bowl Theater, Lincoln, NE
May 19, 2016

Wearing a hat, scarf and jacket on a cool spring night, Paul Simon strolled onto the Pinewood Bowl stage to the strains of “Proof,” picked up an acoustic guitar, stepped to the microphone and started “Boy in the Bubble.”

Two hours and two encores later, he left following “The Boxer,” completing an exquisite concert in the pine tree-lined amphitheater in a park.

The show was something of a career retrospective, reaching back five decades for three Simon & Garfunkel songs, touching on his ‘70s and ‘80s hits, including five songs from his 1986 masterwork Graceland, and previewing the then yet-to-be released Stranger to Stranger album.

[Simon has announced his “Homeward Bound” Farewell Tour. Tickets are available here and here.]

Simon didn’t say much during the concert, speaking to the crowd at length only twice, the first following a raucous run-through of the Cajun-flavored Graceland song “That Was Your Mother,” the fifth number of the evening.

“Hello, my friends,” Simon said. ”So this is Nebraska. I had heard about it, but I didn’t know it really existed.”

Simon hadn’t played Lincoln in 48 years, appearing with Garfunkel at a now closed city auditorium in 1968 – which some in the sold-out crowd of 4,500 yelled to the stage. “Okay, you’ve pinned me. I was here once,” Simon replied.

Then Simon talked about how he writes songs, starting with a tempo, which he began tapping out on the body of his guitar, then adding chords, a melody and words that became “Rewrite” from 2011’s So Beautiful or So What.

Like the rest of the songs, it was slightly rearranged from the recorded version. Live he adds flowing rhythms to, for example,  “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard.”

Those rhythms were delivered by a wickedly good nine-man band, most of whom played multiple instruments – all of which were distinctly audible in an amazing outdoor concert mix. When four band members played a shaker of some variety on the Brazilian-tinged rhythm fest, all could be heard.

And all the instruments and vocals – at least five of the band members contributed background singing along with Simon’s lead – were perfectly balanced in the clear, clean mix of the beautifully sequenced show.

Telling his only story of the night – about taking an hallucinogenic drug given to him by a medicine man during a trip down the Amazon – Simon launched into “Spirit Voices,” the first of two songs from 1990’s Rhythm of the Saints.

Then came “Stranger to Stranger,” a flowing song about working at love that is the title cut of his 13th album, released June 3, 2016.

“That was a new song,” Simon said. “Here’s an old song.” The old song was “Homeward Bound,” that got a loping, country-ish arrangement with Simon handling the vocals as if it were 50 years ago, when the song was new.

At 74, his voice is still clear and retains all his range. He didn’t sing with power, but he’s never really been a screamer or belter. And the doo wop influence on his singing could be heard here and there throughout.

Simon, who played guitars for at least 75 percent of the show, also did some dancing, including giving way to the bassist for a solo on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” one of three songs in the night’s highlight stretch along with a striking version of the 9/8 time “The Cool Cool River” and the clattering new “The Werewolf”

Paul Simon & band2 (crop)The crowd, which ranged in age from 20s to 70s, danced away and sang along with songs like “You Can Call Me Al,” which ended the main set. Then came the funny “Wristband,” a new song about an artist getting locked out of his own show, a beautiful version of “Graceland” and, appropriately, “Still Crazy After All These Years.”

Simon returned a second time, picking up the acoustic guitar and starting “The Boxer.” The band gradually joined in, creating a gorgeous ending to a gem of a concert.

Paul Simon May 19, 2016 Setlist

Proof
The Boy in the Bubble
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
Dazzling Blue
That Was Your Mother
Rewrite
Honky Tonk (Bill Doggett cover)
Slip Slidin’ Away
Mother and Child Reunion
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
Spirit Voices
The Obvious Child
Stranger to Stranger
Homeward Bound
El Condor Pasa (If I Could)
Duncan
The Werewolf
The Cool Cool River
Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes
You Can Call Me Al

Encore 1
Wristband
Graceland
Still Crazy After All These Years

Encore 2
The Boxer

L. Kent Wolgamott

L. Kent Wolgamott has written about music for the Lincoln [NE] Journal Star for 31 years and also writes about visual art. A native Nebraskan and University of Nebraska - Lincoln graduate, he served as an aide to U.S. Sen. Ed Zorinsky in the 1970s before beginning his newspaper career. He is a sports stringer for the Associated Press, primarily covering college football and basketball.
L. Kent Wolgamott
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