Tuesday, July 11, 2006

paul simon review NH

Simon shines during ’Surprise’ visit
By Christopher John Treacy
Monday, July 10, 2006 - Updated: 01:36 PM EST

It saddens me that we’ve reached such a cultural low that giving an amazing talent like Paul Simon our undivided attention for two hours is a challenge -but, alas, there it is.
The two-thirds capacity crowd at Manchester’s (N.H.) Verizon Wireless Arena for Saturday night’s show was perpetually distracted and largely disrespectful, as if his presence was incidental to their nonsensical, loud conversation and booze consumption. I hadn’t realized Simon was available for private functions.

See, although it’s been his touring MO for many moons, arena gigs don’t really do Simon’s music justice. Saturday was no exception: The sound frustratingly echoed off the back wall.
None of this stopped the 64-year-old songwriting pioneer’s solid show, however. Supporting the Brian Eno-produced “Surprise,” he seemed energetic and in good spirits.
Beginning with a “Graceland” double-play, he doused the crowd with the island-hop festivity of “Gumboots,” following up with an unusually hard-rocking version of “Boy in the Bubble.”
During “Outrageous,” it became apparent that the electronic soundscape of the new disc got left in the studio. Rather than attempting to recreate Eno’s synth-wizardry, Simon and his seasoned seven-piece band streamlined the new songs into his trademark world-fused pop. Though perhaps a “surprise” in itself, it would’ve been more satisfying to hear him try something altogether new in a concert setting.
Amidst other newbies, including “How Can You Live in the Northeast?” Simon resurrected “Slip Slidin’ Away,” awash with warm harmonies from guitar and woodwind maestro Mark Stewart and Tony Cedras’ muted horn embellishments. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “Love me Like a Rock” were both dependably by the book.
He abandoned his guitar for the rowdy fun of “That Was Your Mother,” transforming the band into an oddball assortment of washboard, accordion and sax. They slowed down the rhythmic drive of “You’re the One,” allowing the cynicism of Simon’s lyric to come to the forefront.
Wrapping up with a bouncy, double-sax treated version of “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes” and “Cecilia” was unexpected nostalgic bliss, but an annoying, key-generated clap sound marred the latter’s hyperpercussive groove.
Encores included “The Only Living Boy in New York,” “The Boxer” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” all of which were sparsely arranged, allowing a greater sense of intimacy between Simon and those in the audience who were paying attention, (mainly those on the floor). This also signified a new willingness to visit the Art Garfunkel-collaborated portion of his catalog in a solo setting.

At the Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester N.H., Saturday night.