Wednesday evening was looking like it could be either stormy or wonderful: roaming thunderstorms covered the greater-DC area, and we drive north to Merriweather Post Pavilion through occasionally substantial rain.
Fortunately, by the time we arrived at the venue, the rain had stopped and we lucked into a great parking spot. The opening act, The Jerry Douglas Band, had already started, and provided a wonderful backing track as sprite and I walked to the entrance. We staked our spot about 2/3 of the way up the grassy lawn and waited for Paul Simon to take the stage.
Simon recently turned 64, and his new album Surprise features arrangements that are challenging to translate to the stage. Furthermore, it’s the 20th anniversary of Simon’s epic Graceland album, so there were plenty of tough hills for the show to climb.
And Simon climbed them like a happy, comfortable, experienced mountaineer: he was at ease, in tune with his band, and simply happy to be playing his songs in front of a receptive audience.
He opened with “Gumboots,” one of the more obscure tracks from Graceland, which segued seamlessly into “The Boy In The Bubble.” From there, he ran straight into “Outrageous,” which works better in a live setting than it does on Surprise.
The audience really got into the act a bit more when Simon whipped out “Slip Sliding Away,” then was challenged by Simon as he punched out a slyly reconfigred “You’re The One,” ripe with new harmonies and a new arrangement that tookmore advantage of the rock-and-roll chops of the new band.
The rest of the show worked on a “hit, new song, deep track” cycle, more or less. The other new songs during the main set- “How Can You Live In The Northeast?” and “Father And Daughter” – wove in well with the retooled Graceland tracks, which in turn worked well with Simon’s older work. In particular, it was wonderful to see Simon dig out rare acoustic-driven songs like “Duncan” and “The Only Living Boy In New York,” both of which simply shimmered with life.
The show ended with two encores: one featured hits, the other a new song and a retooled favorite that’s more closely associated with Art Garfunkel.
The first encore was a “keep the fans happy” mix of “You Can Call Me Al,” “The Only Living Boy In New York,” and “The Boxer.” This last song featured some silky dobro work from Jerry Douglas, whose band opened for Simon.
The second encore was a “send ’em home mellow and thinking” coupling of the new “Wartime Prayers” (the strongest song from Surprise) and a guitar-driven version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It was a perfect ending to a lovely show.
- The Boy In The Bubble
- Slip Sliding Away
- You’re the One
- Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard
- How Can You Live In The Northeast?
- Mrs. Robinson
- Loves Me Like A Rock
- That Was Your Mother
- Father and Daughter
- Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes
- Still Crazy After All These Years
- You Can Call Me Al
- The Only Living Boy In New York
- The Boxer
- Wartime Prayers
- Bridge Over Troubled Water