Paul Simon takes graying fans on world tour

Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:21am EDT
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By Erik Pedersen

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Paul Simon strolled onstage at the Pantages Theater, and the crowd rose. Standing-O without having played a note or said a word. Yes, this Hollywood crowd -- though decidedly graying -- was primed, and it was raucous and rolling all night.

And for good reason. Simon delivered an alternately beautiful and boisterous show drenched in the world music he's become so associated with -- but without forgetting that America is part of that world. Along with the African rhythms and island riddims were doses or dollops of blues, country, gospel, soul, New York coffeehouse, pure pop, even an Elvis cover. It was a heady brew.

His graceful knack for rhythm, melody and lyrics - that rare triple threat in rock -- have made his catalog essential, but his concerts go far beyond mere recitals. More than a half-century of performing has made Simon a true master of the stage. It's not that he relies on gimmicky antics, witty banter or showboating; rather, few are more expert in piecing together a set list.

After opening Thursday's show with a deep cut from his most popular album then a swampy-starting one from his brand-new record, Simon knew it was time to throw the pent-up crowd some meat. It took the form of his lone No. 1 single, "50 Way to Leave Your Lover," which the horns in his eight-piece band brassed up as much as the song's jilted third party is brassed off. Win.

He followed with the title cut from "So Beautiful or So What," which debuted at a career-high No. 4 on the Billboard 200 last week. The riffy song had more punch than the punchy studio version, its background flute not soothing its irritated narrator. It was one of five songs from the new record, whose themes touch on spirituality and uncertainty, mortality and anxiety, difficulty and tenacity. All were well played and well received, though he opted not to play its catchy and witty lead single, "The Afterlife."

Simon had little time for talk during the perfectly paced show, but he offered one nugget before covering Jimmy Cliff's "Vietnam." "This is the song that made me want to go down to Jamaica and record 'Mother and Child Reunion,'" he said. He followed it with that breakthrough solo hit from 1972, to the crowd's delight.

But his juxtaposition of the two songs stirred thoughts that maybe their pairing was more than just the Jamaica connection. "Reunion" was always a dichotomy -- with its jolly, carefree music played over such sullen lyrics as "I can't for the life of me remember a sadder day" and "this strange and mournful day." Was this a subtle poke at war? Maybe imagining an awful reunion of mother and battle casualty?

Even if so, Simon offered no time to dwell on it, as the zydeco-soaked "That Was Your Mother" followed. Its fast tempo and wild-times story riled up the room, bringing many to their feet. And Jamey Haddad's washboard antics drew a roar.   Continued...

<p>Singer and songwriter Paul Simon accepts the Towering Song Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame for his song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" at a gala induction ceremony in New York, June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar</p>