Friday, 12 April 2013

Paul Simon in concert

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I went to see Paul Simon live in concert in Auckland on Monday night. Anyone who read my tweets after the concert will know just how much I loved it. Anyone who knows me knows that the concert coincided with a major life event. Anyone who is still around will know that I spent most of this week floating back down to earth. Slowly. What a night!

My concert-going has matured much in the way that my coffee drinking has over the years: there are fewer these days but they are of much better quality. This means that I really look forward to concerts (and coffee) and savour them before, during and afterwards. My excitement in the lead-up to Paul Simon was almost tangible. Coming back to reality a few days later was hard.

Four years ago, I made a similar hikoi to Auckland for Simon & Garfunkel. Actually, that trip was mostly just to see Paul Simon and his solo set in the middle of that concert had me vowing to go anywhere, any time if he ever toured New Zealand on his own, never thinking that it would actually happen. On the day this year’s shows were announced, I had booked flights and annual leave before concert tickets were even on sale; there is no way I was going to miss this musical legend on stage. I don't even know what the tour was called, only that I would do whatever it took to go. And I’m so glad I did. Monday night’s concert was worth every cent, every logistic detail that needed organising, every hour spent on various forms of public transport. I’d do it again in a flash.

I had planned on doing a post mortem of the concert, reliving each song blow by blow for my own musical gratification. However, a super-hyped sleepless night after the show and notes scribbled in the dark on the back of my ticket didn't lead to anything coherent until some draft ramblings during the past few nights. So this post is less of a review and more a reflection of impressions and highlights.

You can find the set list here; it’s a goodie. Given Simon’s impressive back catalogue, the two hour list could easily have been made up of completely different songs while still delivering a stellar performance. We were treated to two more songs than Dunedin concertgoers: Still Crazy After All These Years and The Boy In The Bubble, which I am used to listening to at the start of a Paul Simon session as the opening number on Graceland.

There were so many musical highlights: being reminded of how central a good rhythm guitar is in Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard, the brilliant orchestration in Late In The Evening (albeit too fast), then waiting for that bass solo in You Can Call Me Al. Dad and I have spent hours ripping those two palindromic bars apart, never quite managing to put them back together again in just the right way. Well, the bass player slapped it (because he could!) and repeated it at the end of the song (because he could) to cheers from the crowd. Magic!

The truly incredible thing is that Simon sounds exactly like he always has. Neither his voice nor guitar playing has degenerated over the years. That certainly can’t be said of every artist who has been in the game for so long. Much like Bob Dylan, Simon’s songwriting is so strong and beautifully constructed that it can be interpreted and reinterpreted in so many different ways without losing any of its authenticity, which is just what the excellent eight-piece backing band did. This saw us treated to a slower, more mellow version of Slip Slidin' Away along with some other songs being rearranged.

The transition from Hearts and Bones into Mystery Train and Wheels was clever, comedic and certainly entertaining. However, I’m not sure the people sitting either side of me even realised that there were two other songs in this medley ... but I digress. Likewise, I enjoyed the way Kodachrome merged into Gone At Last, offering up the only key change I spotted during the night. The band managed to fill the gaps where Phoebe Snow’s wailing would have been without any fuss.

Although I didn’t expect to hear Take Me To The Mardi Gras, it would have been nice to hear in place of a Here Comes The Sun, an unnecessary Beatles cover that pleased the crowd but left me wanting more of who I had come to see. Also, I would have loved to hear Mother and Child Reunion and had been looking forward to the changing rhythms at the end of Loves Me Like A Rock, but they weren't necessarily glaring omissions.

For me, the evening was about the experience of seeing a legendary songwriter present his work on stage as much as the songs he chose to do this with. I am so thrilled to have ticked another concert off my Top 5 list, as this is one that I never expected I'd get to do. It's fitting that Paul Simon's music has once again provided the backdrop for a major event in my life, making the trip down memory lane on Monday night about even more than his music.

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