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Paul Simon: Still crazy good after all these years

By Nick Bequette

June 8, 2017

“What would you like to hear?” Paul Simon asks the crowd shortly into his set Tuesday night in Charlotte. The crowd responds with requests drowning each other out and blending into a marbled roar. After listening intently for a few seconds, Simon responds, “I’m sorry. Don’t take requests.” And so starts a show by a 75 year old legend who has never shied away from adding humor to his music and his live shows. As the sun begins to set, the moon can be seen in the eastern sky. Paul comments, “Look at that moon! I’m just lucky.” Someone from the crowd yells for him to check out the sunset. The clouds over the top of the NC Music Factory are bursting in an orange and red glow. Paul turns to look and freezes at the sight. “Thank you for pointing that out to me.”

Photo by Alex Cason

Paul Simon is deep into a 53 year career and it wouldn’t take long for the attendees to understand that nothing would be off limits. Without a new album to support, he did an applaudable job of mixing popular solo and Simon And Garfunkel hits with newer songs including some from his latest, 2016’s Stranger To Stranger. Throughout the night, there was never a time when the audience felt a unanimous need for a bathroom break. Under a still bright, but cloudy sky, the evening started with “Boy In The Bubble,” from his Grammy winning album, Graceland. He would return to Graceland several times throughout the evening.

Photo by Alex Cason

The second song, 50 Ways to Leave your Lover, got a portion of the crowd to its feet early. A rather heated debate broke out just two rows in front of me between two older couples who were not thrilled with the couple dancing in front of them and blocking their view. After a few exchanges it ended with the younger woman yelling, “I’m sorry but, I’m in my thirties!” She was vindicated only a few songs later when Simon invited everyone to get up and dance during “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard.”

Simon has remained relevant through five decades by exploring many styles of music without losing himself in the process. He has an exceptional ability to bring any genre to his voice. The hidden gem, “Duncan,” began with a prelude of an instrumental from “El Condor Pasa.” “Hearts and Bones” transitioned into “Mystery Train,” an early recording made famous by Elvis. Watching Simon from the crowd, you would never guess his age. He often utilizes his hands to illustrate a song and his feet were often shuffling to an impromptu jig. He has always listed Elvis Presley as one of his musical heroes. Throughout the evening, he does his best to mimic the legend’s moves and guitar stances and there aren’t many songs that can bring a crowd to its feet as quickly as “You Can Call Me Al.” The song closed the main set with Simon dancing along and adding some of Chevy Chase’s hand gestures from the video. His melancholy delivery is supported by every member of the ten piece band, mimicking the studio version perfectly and ending with the bassist front and center for that signature solo.

The hat that hung on his microphone stand all night is finally worn for the second encore, The hat, he explains, is from The Half Earth Project created by biologist and author, Edward Wilson. His foundation formed the initiative, named after his book, Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight For Life, to aid in stopping the species extinction crisis by conserving half the planet’s land and oceans. Before playing “Questions For The Angels,” Simon announced that all the profits from this tour are going to his foundation.

Photo by Alex Cason

After playing “Late In The Evening” the band took its final bows. Simon was left on the stage alone waving and thanking the crowd. He turned and grabbed a guitar for one last solo acoustic number, “Sound of Silence.” During the song, the whistle of a passing train could clearly be heard by Simon. During a pause in the lyrics he commented, “Oh, that’s so beautiful.” And with that, our evening was over, a perfect ending to a great night of music.

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