The solo Paul Simon, not the one from Simon & Garfunkel, is a different artist altogether. Last night he and his very tight band played a rare New York club date at Webster Hall, formerly the Ritz, in the East Village. Unlike most venues Paul Simon might play, Webster Hall has few seats. It was a new wave dance club in the early 1980s. Patrons stand, and stand. They are crammed onto the main floor like sardines.
And so they were last night, as Simon rocked and Zydeoc-ed, playing his most upbeat danceable music and mixing it with just a few powerful ballads and anthems like “Peace Like a River” and “The Sound of Silence”–the latter was the only one of two songs from the Simon & Garfunkel songbook. The other was “The Only Living Boy in New York,” a nod to the commercial now playing on TV.
Simon, unburdened by “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or “Mrs. Robinson,” instead delved into his solo catalog with a heavy emphasis on “Graceland” and “The Rhythm of the Saints.” You could tell this made him happy. He invited David Byrne on stage to perform the Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” with Simon’s band, and then followed it up with Byrne swivel-hipping “You Can Call Me Al” into a Talking Heads style chant. On the face of it, the two musicians wouldn’t seem to have a lot in common. But Byrne had the Talking Heads performing African inspired music three or four years before Simon. Remember their “I Zimbra”? So it worked.
Elsewhere in the show, Simon combined Jimmy Cliff‘s “Vietnam” with his own “Mother and Child Reunion.” He turned “Kodachrome” to a singalong anthem. He took a rare shot at “Gone At Last”– a hit record he made with Phoebe Snow–and the band sneaked in riffs from the Four Tops‘ “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.” There was Simon’s lovely nod to George Harrison with “Here Comes the Sun” — shades of “Saturday Night Live” circa 1976–http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVJgDTQZPbs .
Simon’s African and Brazilian periods were represented by “The Obvious Child,” “The Boy in the Bubble,” and the entire audience joining in on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” The songs from his latest album, “So Beautiful or So What,” actually quieted the audience and they listened. The album is headed to the Grammy Awards next winter. It’s a gem.
What a night! Another New York singer songwriter icon, Carole King, was spotted in the house with one of her daughters. Camera crews buzzed around, filming for a PBS special and for a 25th anniversary “Graceland” documentary. No one wanted to leave, least of all Simon. He came upstairs to the mezzanine, covered in sweat, and shook hands with every guest left up there. He told me that the small club atmosphere energized him. “You can feel the audience,” he said. He may still be there.