Simon appeared to be having as splendid a time as the audience.
Fox Theatre, St. Louis
For a guy who has more than earned his place in rock ’n’ roll history, Paul Simon could very well kick back in a beachside cabana, sipping margaritas, and looking out at the ocean from under the brim of one of his stylish hats.
The thing is, Simon has always been too forward-thinking to spend much time reminiscing about all of those wonderful yesterdays. Case in point: His latest album, Stranger to Stranger, is on track to be his most popular debut ever, and his highest-charting solo album since Graceland 29 years ago. It’s an astonishing feat for an artist who released “Hey Schoolgirl,” his first single with Art Garfunkel, in 1957.
Simon has visited St. Louis many times over his career, but it was clear from the pre-show chatter in the audience that this gig had a different energy, no doubt infused with the need for some kind of catharsis from the tragic news that came from Orlando early that morning. Music is a healing power, and Simon and his tight nine-piece band of multi-instrumentalists were up to the task of delivering it in the two-hour-plus concert.
Just after the band gave him an instrumental rave-up worthy of James Brown, Simon returned to the Fox Theatre stage, launching into a set of old favorites and material from the latest album. Looking fit in a dark gray shirt and black blazer, the 74-year-old singer-songwriter explained he was a bit late on stage because he was trying to catch wife Edie Brickell as she headed into the Tonys (she co-wrote a musical with Steve Martin, the Tony-nominated Bright Star).
After a spirited rendition of “The Boy in the Bubble,” the iconic drum pattern that heralds “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” brought the crowd to its feet, the first of many times during the evening. Vocal harmonies, echoing Simon’s beloved doo-wop roots, anchored the gorgeous melodies of “Dazzling Blue” from 2011’s So Beautiful or So What.
Later in the set, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” pulled even more folks to the aisles to give their dancing shoes a workout. Keeping the instantly recognizable rhythm and melody, the band gave the song the additional kick of a Louisiana-style strut that somehow elevated the classic song to an almost transcendent meditation on love, and our ability as human beings to overcome our differences.
Simon’s musicians, many of whom have been with him for decades, were all allowed to shine. Guitarist Vincent Nguini introduced one of the songs, and drummer Jim Oblon doubled on guitar for the classic “Slip Sliding Away.” Whether it was conducting his band like an orchestra, whipping out some funky and spontaneous dance moves, or crooning a dreamlike rendition of “Still Crazy After All These Years,” Simon appeared to be having as splendid a time as the audience.
One of the highlights of the show was when Simon introduced “Spirit Voices” from 1990’s The Rhythm of the Saints, telling a story about being in the Amazon and taking a hallucinogenic drug from a local medicine man. When he heard a loud woop from the balcony, he asked, “Oh, you’ve been to the Amazon?” causing a ripple of laughter to spread across the capacity crowd.
His time with Simon & Garfunkel was represented by a meditative “Homeward Bound’ and an instrumental intro of “El Condor Pasa,” which dovetailed nicely into “Duncan,” a delightful surprise from his eponymous debut.
After a rendition of “You Can Call Me Al” that brought young and old into the aisles, Simon and band returned for two encores. Ending the night with “The Boxer” and The Sound of Silence,” Simon seemed grateful for the enthusiastic reception from the audience—and the audience was grateful for a dose of joy on an evening when they needed it most. | Jim Ousley