Paul Simon

At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Saturday, October

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

With a career that spans more than 40 years, dozens of classic
songs to his credit, and an enormous and loyal fan base worldwide,
Paul Simon could afford to coast. But he’s not. He’s growing, and
Surprise, his recent collaboration with “sonic landscaper” Brian
Eno and producer Tchad Blake, has resulted not only in a fine
album, but also in one of the most enjoyable and moving concerts of
this season. The direction of the recording, which sounds modern
and dreamy, has carried over to the live arrangements Simon plays,
which are consistently stunning and show new angles and depths in
even his most familiar hits. Of all the marvelous late-career
reinventions we have witnessed recently — think Bob Dylan and Brian
Wilson — Paul Simon’s may be the most successful live. The show is
just that good.

Simon came on promptly at eight in a long-sleeved purple T-shirt
and his customary baseball cap. Two hours later he was going strong
with a third encore. The audience was ecstatic throughout. Although
the band members were never properly introduced, they deserved
nothing but superlatives. Seven musicians, including two drummers,
played a galaxy of instruments, from accordion and sax to Simon’s
six- and 12-string Martin guitars, which he fingerpicked. Every
number had a distinctive sonic signature, and within virtually
every arrangement there was a delicious surprise that set the tune
off in a new direction. “Slip Slidin’ Away” revealed its roots in
Woody Guthrie’s Americana, and “The Only Living Boy in New York”
delivered a wordless final chorus that just about out-harmonized
Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys. Still sitcom-ready with the
self-deprecating quips after all these years, Simon also remains a
passionate and committed opponent of the Bush administration and
American imperialism. The innocent hope for the future expressed so
powerfully by the sturdy “Bridge Over Troubled Water” that Simon
and Garfunkel built so many years ago has never been more needed
than it is now. As the crowd sang along and swayed together to the
optimistic music of their youth, for long moments the intervening
time seemed simply to dissolve. Here’s to you, Rhymin’ Simon, our
nation now turns its lonely eyes to you. Thanks for being there to
look back at us.


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