Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Simon & Garfunkel - Old Friends concert

"Hello Darkness, my old friend ..."

You know those quizzes which ask, "if you could have five guests to dinner, dead or alive, who would you choose? ..." or something like that? Well, mine would be musical dinner. I haven't finalised the guest list, but it's guaranteed that Paul Simon would be there; I consider him to be one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived. Therefore, I was most excited to hear that Simon & Garfunkel would kick off their Old Friends tour with a concert at Vector Arena in Auckland.

First introduced to Simon & Garfunkel when I was 7 by an enthusiastic teacher, I grew up listening to their music and admiring their vocal harmonies. Studying their music in greater depth as a teenager, and remaining a fan throughout my musical adulthood, there was no question about whether or not I'd make the trip to Auckland to see them in concert. I figure that it's unlikely Paul Simon will ever do another solo tour; this concert was all or nothing for me.

The concert started with a video montage of their younger years, with America as the accompanying soundtrack. Then, a simple spotlight lit the front of the stage while they played Old Friends, just two voices and one guitar. Perfect. A Hazy Shade of Winter gave a rocking start to the concert and introduced a seven piece band, followed by a rearranged version of I Am A Rock and then America. Finally, some words from the duo: "I am Artie Garfunkel and this is my old friend Paul Simon." It pretty much summed it all up.

Garfunkel explains how the duo met as eleven-year-olds in a 6th grade school production of Alice in Wonderland. He played the Cheshire Cat to Simon's White Rabbit. They started playing music together and aspired to be like the Everly Brothers. Their first song, as Tom & Jerry, was Hey Schoolgirl in the Second Row, a complete ripoff of Wake Up Little Suzie, and it was great to see them poking fun at themselves about it all these years later.

It was immediately obvious that Garfunkel's voice is not what it used to be. Husky and often breathless, I wonder if he'll make it through the whole tour. Simon, on the other hand, sounds just like he always did; amazing. Scarborough Fair was spectacular and one of the guitarists magically turned into a cellist to play the Canticle part. Homeward Bound, ironically played at the start of their tour, included an extended jam, then came The Sound of Silence. I was surprised; I'd imagined they would either start or finish with Sound.

Another video montage followed, this time accompanied by The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy) and including footage of The Graduate (1967). Of course, this led to Mrs Robinson, with a cute version of Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away thrown into the middle of it.

I heard Simon strum a single chord on the guitar and wondered (hoped) if it was Slip Sliding Away; it was, and he introduced it as a number which might have been a S&G song if they hadn't split. Next was El Condor Pasa, and this time the multi-talented guitarist pulled out a recorder. Garfunkel had four songs of his own next. He proclaimed that he had never really been a songwriter ... until recently. Cue a non-descript and unnecessary original; very brave of him considering he was standing on stage with one of the greatest songwriters of all time. As cheesy as it may sound, Bright Eyes was beautiful and would have done the trick for this set.

Then it was Simon's turn. I'd hoped he would play some of his solo material and was thrilled to hear Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, The Boy in the Bubble, and Diamonds on the Souls of her Shoes; pure magic. I wish he could have gone on for another ten minutes and play Call Me Al, Kocachrome, and Late in the Evening, too.

Of course, Bridge Over Troubled Water could be expected as a finale. What was unexpected, though, was a dreadful power malfunction, leaving an acoustic performance for the second verse and an obliging audience picking up the lyrics where Simon's mic left off; an embarrassing look for Vector Arena. The power came back on in time for the third verse and Garfunkel's voice, which was pretty much shot by now, managed to give one last burst for a spectacular finish and all was forgiven. More than a tear or two fell and the staid crowd finally came alive just in time for the end of the show.

Two encores followed: a muddy-sounding Cecelia and The brilliant Boxer, confirming that there was no need for an idiot to yell out "play The Boxer!" throughout most of the concert. (Although, if I was going to yell out anything, it would have been "play Keep the Customers Satisfied!" - I would have loved it.) I was disappointed not to hear the whole extended ending of The Boxer but thrilled with what we got. The second encore gave us Leaves That Are Green and an impromptu-sounding 59th Street Bridge Song, complete with full house lights. (Tut tut, Vector Arena.)

So there is my long-winded take on a spectacular evening, very similar to the musical post mortem Dad and I did once I got home. Opening night nerves and rusty performance jitters aside, this was a once in a lifetime musical experience for me. I imagine there will be some tweaking of the set list as the tour progresses, and more fine tuning of the details. It's been 25 years since they've toured but it looks like Simon & Garfunkel are prepared to put their differences (conflicts) aside for now to come together once more and go out on a high. Media and other reviewers tell their stories, including this one by Jeremy Redmore and also Simon Sweetman. I'm also interested to hear what other musicians thought of the show.

Guess what's playing almost continuously on my iPod right now?

Concert photo: Reuters. Used without permission

1 comment:

Julie said...

Wu-hoo ... so glad to read your concert experience. I left a sort comment on your 365 post, too.

S&G played at the ACER Arena in Sydney. The tickets ranged from $99 to $350 and fpr the cheapest we would have been watching giant screens all night. Also the AA takes longer to get out of, than the concert took to watch. We saw War of the Worlds there last year and I vowed never again.

Anyway, our living room concert was a hoot ... and we got to see them as they were. Being 60 yo women we did not want to watch 60 yo men up on stage!!

Seriously, though: they are magical. I actually bought the 1981 CP DVD ... might even track down the 2003 Old Friends in Madison Square.