It was not late in the evening when Paul Simon began to play. It was exactly 8:22 p.m., in fact -- and it's interesting to note that, when he penned the story of his journey as a musician in that song more than thirty years ago, he hadn't even reached his halfway point. More than probably any other act as seasoned, Simon has been incredibly reliable both as a songwriter and a performer as his '50s-bred brethren either got increasingly silly-seeming (a la The Rolling Stones) or faded into obscurity. And his show last night made it abundantly clear that there's a reason for that.
First off, there wasn't more than a minute of wasted time from start to finish. Opener Secret Sisters -- two down-home girls from Alabama with a single acoustic guitar -- started at exactly 7:30 p.m. and played a set that consisted mostly of country covers and a couple of sentimental originals sung in tight harmony reminiscent of, well, Simon and Garfunkel, actually. It was pleasant enough, and the crowd received it noncommittally. They wrapped around 8:10.
Just over ten minutes later, Simon came out and launched right into what would be a more than two-hour set with few interruptions, opening with "The Boy in the Bubble," from Graceland and segueing without interruption into "Dazzling Blue," from his latest, So Beautiful or So What. Which was no coincidence: He's currently touring behind So Beautiful, but the recent 25th anniversary of Graceland apparently has him in a reminiscent mood -- he'll reportedly perform that album in its entirety with the original band on his next tour -- and throughout the set, he struck a pretty even balance between both albums, with a couple of other crowd-pleasers thrown in along the way. Like the next song, "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."
It was only after those three songs that Simon even took a break to say a few words -- a joke about the crazy Denver weather and an "I love this town" remark -- before plowing straight back in with the title track from So Beautiful. In fact, he probably said no more than twenty words throughout, and that's basically the timbre of the performance: all business, no frills, no weirdness, no elaborate set pieces, no stage antics, just Paul Simon rendering studio-perfect versions his songs, with a few odd covers, including the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" in the encore.
But man, were they ever perfect. Despite the somewhat weird, echo-ey acoustics in the venue (and Simon's vocals could have been a tad louder, but that's always the way), it might have been playing from your stereo, all those crazy, multi-textured Paul Simon-style arrangements included and all the instrumentation -- the full horn section, the bunches of esoteric percussion, the organ, the sitar, the sax solos, the African Mbaqanga singers -- everything. But while the renditions were flawless, they were also elastic, leaving extra room during a few songs for some extremely accomplished jamming -- "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," for example, built to a pretty epic drum-solo.
Given the breadth of Simon's sonic influences, it was at least a little surprising that about the extent of the diversity the audience had to offer was the wide variety of hippie-dancing ("It's like the Star Wars cantina of hippies in here," remarked my companion, after a hippie who had been frolicking -- literally frolicking -- around her implored her to dance). Also, there was a girl there dressed as a banana. And I smelled at least four different strains of weed.
But the people, whatever their demographic composition, got everything they came for and more: They danced to "Kodachrome" and to "Gone at Last." They held up their lighters for his first-encore solo-with-acoustic-guitar rendition of "The Sound of Silence." By the time the second encore wrapped and everyone went home in time to get up for work the next day, it's safe to say nobody could possibly have asked for more. And if the closing number happened to be "Still Crazy after All These Years," and if that song's sentiment happened to come off a little ironic under the circumstances, so what? Paul Simon may not exactly be crazy these days, but he did manage to blow that crowd away.
Click through for Critic's Notebook and setlist
Personal Bias: I heart the shit out of Paul Simon. Love him. Random Detail: Saw Josh Blue ambling around in the crowd a couple of times. By the Way: I watched that girl in the banana suit for a while -- she was wearing a banana suit, after all -- and she seemed like a shitty person. Just saying.
01. The Boy in the Bubble 02. Dazzling Blue 03. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover 04. So Beautiful or So What 05. Mother and Child Reunion 06. That Was Your Mother 07. Hearts and Bones 08. Mystery Train (Junior Parker) 09. Slip Slidin' Away 10. Rewrite 11. Peace Like a River 12. The Obvious Child 13. The Only Living Boy in New York 14. Love Is Eternal Sacred Light 15. My Little Town 16. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes 17. Gumboots
18. The Sound of Silence 19. Kodachrome 20. Gone at Last 21. Here Comes the Sun (The Beatles) 22. Crazy Love, Vol. II 23. Late in the Evening
24. Graceland 25. Pretty Thing (Bo Diddley) 26. Still Crazy After All These Years
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