First, let’s get this out of the way: as we all know, Rufus Wainwright, here tonight playing opener, deserves his own huge set, which he very well has had given that he toured Australia no more than a year ago. That he’s even here at all again to accompany Paul Simon speaks volumes about the respect the latter generates from generations young and old. All it takes is five seconds to figure out what kind of crowd the man has pulled in. Your reviewer sat between a young woman who was out with her father on the left and a contingent of septuagenarians on the right who, in fact, did not know who the hell Rufus Wainwright was. Nothing his mind-blowing way-too-short set couldn’t fix. From ‘The Art Teacher’ via the iconic cover of ‘Hallelujah’ to ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk’, Rufus and that voice stunned. Loudon Wainwright III’s son can sing off an illegal parking ticket and it’ll still sound like a marriage proposal from someone you’d say yes to. He must have an extra pair of lungs in there somewhere because the points at which you think he’ll run out of breath, where his voice sort of trails off, he’ll manage to draw upon this reserve energy and end the verse louder than before he started trailing. According to a voice on my right, Rufus Wainwright was “not that bad at all was he?”
Now. Paul Simon. Paul Simon is 71 years old. Age is the big elephant in the room. Apart from Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Paul McCartney, off the top of your reviewer’s head, there aren’t that many musicians in their 70s out there still going, still battling for the Ain’t Gunna Stop Award (which, by the way, even though he’s under 70, Neil Young is winning by miles—Psychedelic Pill being one of those albums you play loud with caution; plus Tom Waits isn’t far off). As such, your reviewer couldn’t help comparisons with a younger Paul Simon, i.e. the one from Simon & Garfunkel’s The Concert in Central Park (1982) DVD. And believe you him, S&G go head-to-head in trying to bore the nuts out of New York. This isn’t to say that they weren’t tip-top, but they just weren’t having fun. Fast forward thirty years and we’re in a whole new ballpark: Paul Simon not only has fun, he gives life to the knees of the women on my right who by the end of the 2-hour long, 3-encore set no longer want to sit down but boogie (I also award a niner for the Gregorian-choir like humming during ‘Sound of Silence’). After all, if Paul Simon can do the Elvis-twist with 71-year old knees, then so can you—the twist being just one of his dance moves, he’s now got more than Pitbull. Oh, and another of his newly acquired skills seem to be scatting and a 71-year old scatting is about the most adorable thing in the world.
That Paul Simon was clearly having fun cannot be understated. It was the magic ingredient of his show. Of course, it’s perhaps much more easier when you’re an established musician who can take his time with tour scheduling, who isn’t going cross country in a van, sleeping in your mate’s basement. But then again, Simon was already an established musician in the S&G Central Park recording, and it was clear that one of the duo didn’t want to be there.
Whatever charm/enthusiasm/happiness the man withheld during the concert in Central Park thirty years ago, it was all there on the evening. Seriously, Paul Simon in that live recording smiled (when he did) as though he just had his wisdom teeth pulled out without anesthetic. In Sydney, he made us like Mills & Boon characters. His repertoire consisted of everything from his first solo album to his latest, So Beautiful or So What, plus S&G songs as a third (!) encore which he claimed were not rehearsed and might come out sounding like free jazz. Well, no. As for his voice, it seems like he’s somehow managed to expand his vocal range, holding notes on ‘America’ like, well, like Rufus Wainwright who also came out to finish the night on ‘The Boxer’. This closer made your reviewer realise that Paul Simon just has this preternatural voice which harmonises effortlessly well with anyone.
Lastly, Paul Simon hit the jackpot with every single member of his 8-piece band, each of them seeming to come from diverse musical backgrounds. This plus the freedom to experiment result with much more pronounced Latin, African, jazz, etc. qualities that Simon infused the songs with in the first place. The band leader derived as much joy from cueing his members into solos as he does from leading the band. To take just one example, at the end of ‘My Little Town’ the song segued into a piano solo, the entire stage in darkness except for the halo of light on the pianist; the solo starting with loud running rhapsodic scales and ending in Tom & Jerry chaos which he brought to an end by slamming his arm into the belly of the piano. It sounded almost outrageous, a din that doesn’t compute for someone who made his name with a tiny angelic voice and an acoustic guitar. Yet, it worked. Keep singing, Paul.