by Julian Spivey
If I were to construct a Mount Rushmore for my favorite songwriters of all-time it would probably include the face of Paul Simon. For this reason, getting to see the legendary singer-songwriter in person was something I’d always hoped I’d get to do. That moment finally came on Friday, May 6 at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Catoosa, Okla. just outside of Tulsa when Simon put on an around 20 song set that included songs from his early days with Simon & Garfunkel all the way up to tracks from his upcoming album Stranger to Stranger.
Simon’s career has basically been two different careers that make up a body of work as rich and as legendary as just about any other artist in pop music history. His work with Simon & Garfunkel throughout the ‘60s and the very early days of the ‘70s was moody and beat poetic that had Simon rivaling Bob Dylan as the best crossover folk artist of the day. His solo stuff starting in the early ‘70s and growing as it reached his epic Graceland album more than a decade later is a full sound of worldly music bringing in different styles from places all over the world, in particular the sounds of African music.
I greatly enjoy both styles of Simon’s music and he does a pretty good job mixing them in concert, but just know if you want to see Simon on this Stranger to Stranger tour expecting to hear a greatest hits of Simon & Garfunkel classics you may leave the venue slightly bummed. You shouldn’t though, because Simon’s solo output is Rock and Roll Hall of Fame caliber on its own and will have you wanting to move your body along to the music all along. Unless you get somewhat of a dud of an older crowd just wanting to sit back and enjoy the music like The Joint seemed to have on Friday night.
Simon opened his show with the brilliant “The Boy in the Bubble,” one of four songs he’d play from Graceland throughout the course of the night. This really got the crowd excited for the show and the excitement was ratcheted up even more when Simon immediately went into his 1976 No. 1 hit “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” his only chart-topping single as a solo artist.
As previously mentioned, Simon did an excellent job at giving the audience a terrific glance at his entire body of work that spans six decades on Friday night and he proved this early on going from his mid-‘70s hit directly into the beautiful “Dazzling Blue,” from his 2011 album So Beautiful or So What. This would be followed up by the Cajun-flavored “That Was Your Mother,” from Graceland, and back into a song from that 2011 album in “Rewrite.” This portion of his concert may not have been filled with sing-a-long hit records that everybody in attendance knew, but was truly one of the highlights of the evening.
Songs like “Dazzling Blue” and particularly “Rewrite” are proof that Simon hasn’t lost anything at all as a songwriter over the years, something that truly makes him one of the all-time greats.
One of my favorite performances of the concert was Simon’s take on his 1977 top five hit “Slip Slidin’ Away,” which he performed in a different style from what we’ve been accustomed to hearing on the radio and records for years. This seemed to be off-putting to some in the venue, but gave the song new life that made it both interesting again for myself and I’m sure the 74-year old performer who realizes music is fluid and can be adapted, changed, altered or even improved over the years.
“Slip Slidin’ Away” launched into two of the most energetic performances of the night from Simon and his stellar band with “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” which should’ve had more people on their feet and dancing near their seats than it did. Is anybody else slightly perturbed by some of the concert audiences they’ve seen lately? It’s a concert, not a funeral. Have some fun. Maybe seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and his loyal, raucous followers last month has made me believe that’s what every concert should be like, though?
As previously mentioned, Simon didn’t play many Simon & Garfunkel selections throughout the night, but when he did play one his song selection was impeccable. The first of two S&G songs was “Homeward Bound,” one of my all-time favorite Simon pieces. While not performing the complete song Simon’s beautiful band used an instrumental performance of Simon & Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa” and a musical interlude into Simon’s solo performance of “Duncan,” which really worked well with the song.
Simon ended his set with the perfect one-two punch of “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al,” both from Graceland, which finally got the majority of the audience at least on their feet and grooving.
I’ve seen a lot of great artists, all-time legends really, in concert over the last decade of my life, but Simon and his band were without a doubt the grooviest act I’ve seen.
Simon started his first three song encore with “Wristband,” the first release from his upcoming album Stranger to Stranger. It’s a smooth and comical song about getting locked out back during a small venue show and having to go back around to the front where even though he’s the evening’s talent the bouncer won’t let him inside without a wristband. During his initial set Simon had played another cool track from this upcoming album called “The Werewolf.” These two songs leave me excited about the performer’s first album in five years, which will be released on June 3.
Simon continued his encore with his 1980 top 10 hit “Late in the Evening,” speaking of groovy. The infectious bass line of this song had gotten stuck in my head the night prior to the show in anticipation of seeing one of my musical heroes and really had me excited for the live performance.
Speaking of bass playing, Simon’s bassist Bakithi Kumalo is without a doubt the best bassist I’ve ever seen in person and truly one of the most underrated bassists in the business. His bass solo at the end of “You Can Call Me Al” alone is maybe the greatest bass solo I’ve ever heard and seeing him perform it live was one of the greatest feats of musicality I’ve ever seen.
Simon finished his first encore with “Still Crazy After All These Years,” an obvious fan favorite. “Still Crazy After All These Years” is one of those performances throughout the evening where you realize just how great Simon sounds at 74 years of age.
Simon left the stage at The Joint to uproarious applause before returning a minute or two later to completely make my night with a performance of Simon & Garfunkel’s 1969 top 10 hit “The Boxer,” which in my opinion is the greatest song Simon has ever written. This performance alone, truly made the ticket price, the most I’d ever spent on a concert worthwhile.
Simon was everything I wanted him to be, which is to say essentially perfect. He sounds great, his band is amazing and these stories he has written and put to music over the last six decades are iconic and generally important in my life as a music lover. Simon may have a small five foot three frame, but the man is and always will be a giant to me.