sat 24/10/2020

Paul Simon, Hammersmith Apollo | reviews, news & interviews

Paul Simon, Hammersmith Apollo

Paul Simon, Hammersmith Apollo

A rousing rescheduled show from the veteran and his peerless band

Paul Simon is now nearly 70 years old and as he walked onto the Hammersmith Apollo stage last night it struck me that he is beginning to look like the little old man he will eventually become: still nimble, enviably trim, but nevertheless, he was noticeably older and more fragile-looking than when I last saw him five years ago. The second thing that struck me was a certain weariness in the opening songs - a mechanical quality to the playing, and a concomitantly flat atmosphere. The opening song, “Crazy Love Vol II”, was ploddy, while “Dazzling Blue”, from his new So Beautiful or So What album, just seemed listless. It was not an auspicious start to a show that had been rescheduled from the previous night after an unwell Simon had been on doctor’s orders to rest his voice.

I should have known better, because this was just Simon and his band limbering up, stretching their sinews, pacing themselves, working up a light sweat. For this tour, as always, he has assembled a peerless ensemble of multitasking pickers, pluckers, blowers and tappers, among them South African bassist Bakithi Kumalo (who has been with Simon on and off since 1986’s Graceland album), and veteran Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini. Incrementally, they and their fellow players ratcheted up the energy levels song by song, while the mysterious process of cohesion by which a bunch of individuals become a band began to take place. By the end the musicians had merged into a single entity, while the fans were on their feet and moving to the glorious brassy blast of “You Can Call Me Al”. Fabulous. As for the voice: to me, it sounded just fine, as sweet and pure as ever – there were a couple of times when he shied away from the high notes, but that’s to be expected.

There were, if memory serves, just two songs in this show from his time with Art Garfunkel: “The Only Living Boy in New York” and “The Sound of Silence” (the latter delivered, as it was originally recorded, with only Simon’s acoustic guitar as accompaniment; beautiful). Which was absolutely fine. What I wanted to hear most of all – and so did the rest of the crowd, judging by their reaction - was the solo stuff, the Graceland greats, the songs that displayed Simon’s gift for channelling global musical styles: “Mother and Child Reunion” (cracking, though it’s not the same without the female backing vocals); “Hearts and Bones” (so subtle, so steady); “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes” (sparkling, of course).

If I were asked to find fault with this show, I would point to the issue of pacing: there were times when a head of steam had been built up with a couple of uptempo tunes, only for it to dissipate as Simon picked up his acoustic guitar and delivered another gentle ballad. Vital momentum was lost; it was a bit frustrating.

But really, this wasn’t a big deal; overwhelmingly, it was lovely. Especially when he unexpectedly sang “Here Comes the Sun” for no other reason, he said, than that: “It’s good to think about George once in a while.” “Kodachrome” was lumpy and jumpy, but then I’ve never been a great fan of that song; “The Boy in the Bubble” was powerful and urgent; “The Obvious Child”, with its visceral, clattering Brazilian percussion, was just fabulous. Of the songs from the latest album, one that really lodged in the memory was “Questions for the Angels”, a rare new Paul Simon classic, blessed with a sweet tune (I’d begun to wonder whether his melody-well had run dry), and lyrically rooted in his familiar territory of urban desolation in New York. And as the night rolled on, the years seemed to roll back, so that by the end Paul Simon no longer looked like an old man, but younger, fresher, reinvigorated.

Paul Simon performs "The Afterlife"

Comments

I had an opportunity to go to the gig and although I know a number of Paul Simon songs (who doesn't?) I'm not a hardcore fan. I've never been to a gig before where the quality of musicianship from everyone and the quality of the mix was so good. Yes Paul Simon was amazing, but his musicians really made it for him and added so many interesting dimensions to his songs. He is a song writing genius, but his musicians as a group made his songs sing.

Shame we were not able to see him in Bournemouth, where he cancelled due to illness and is not rescheduling apparently 4000 fans abandoned at a half hour's notice, many having travelled a long way, booked accommodation, paid for parking et

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