BOSTON — Last week, I scratched another item off my “to do list.” I saw Paul Simon in concert.
Under normal circumstances, my idea of fun is not going out to a noisy, crowded club where I have to stand in place for three hours whilst withstanding knee pain and a distended bladder to get a remotely decent view of the proceedings or else risk losing my spot and thus ruining my evening.
Yet this is exactly what I was prepared for when I made my way to the House of Blues situated on Lansdowne Street opposite Fenway Park. Besides, I was too cheap to get a ticket to see Simon perform at the Wang Theater the previous evening.
While your House of Blues ticket will indicate a row and a seat number, there are in fact no seats and the only rows are comprised of randomly yet delicately arranged human bodies. I was on the mezzanine level and managed to find a spot in the back a short distance behind a railing which looked directly at center stage. As it happened, I was standing in front of the air conditioner so at least I didn’t become a sweaty mess. I carefully clutched my plastic cup of Coca-Cola hoping that no one would back into my chest and force me to spill my drink all over myself.
Now it is one thing to do this when you are 28 but quite another thing to do so when you are 38 never mind 48, 58 or beyond. Not surprisingly, the older half of the baby boom demographic was out in full force and some of them were quite uncomfortable with the primitive conditions of the venue. It didn’t help matters when a young couple (and I mean one likely not of legal drinking age) began shoving us to get to the front of the railing. A middle-aged woman wearing a backpack confronted the young couple concerning their behavior and told them in no uncertain terms that they needed to move immediately. After other adults joined in the admonition, the young couple bid a hasty retreat. Their lack of propriety would be discussed for several minutes after their departure.
But when that discussion petered out people began asking, “Where’s Paul?” The show was supposed to start at eight and it was nearly twenty past. To my left was another young couple (albeit more mature than the previous). The tall gentleman said, “It’s Paul Simon. He can do whatever he wants.” I chimed in, “He’s an 800 pound gorilla!” to some amused laughter.
O.K., a short 800 pound gorilla. But let’s face it. Paul Simon does just about whatever he wants. This is a man who brings his brother onstage to play guitar with him and then sends him on his way. This is a man who when not in the mood to lip sync in his music video has Chevy Chase do it for him. This is a man who is willing to let complete strangers jam with him and sing his songs. So if Paul Simon wants to come out twenty minutes late, who are we mere mortals to say otherwise?
And then the boy came out of the bubble to give us our money’s worth. As one might expect, Simon performed songs covering a cross section of his career such as “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Mother & Child Reunion,” “Kodachrome” as well as a generous portion of his 1986 landmark album Graceland. Naturally, he played several cuts from his new album, So Beautiful or So What. As for the Simon & Garfunkel catalogue, he limited that repertoire to an acoustic solo version of “Sounds of Silence” and “The Only Living Boy in New York” (which is enjoying new life in a Honda commercial).
Along the way Simon undusted some songs he hasn’t performed in years such as “Peace Like a River” from his very solo effort forty years ago, “Gone at Last” (a gospel-inspired duet he recorded with Phoebe Snow, who passed away in April) and The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” (Simon and George Harrison sang this together on Saturday Night Live in November 1976.) Yet perhaps the high point of the show was his rendition of the much overlooked “Heart & Bones” which segued into “Mystery Train” made famous by none other than Elvis Presley. The pain in my knees and my bladder didn’t subside. Yet all in all, it was a concert well worth enduring.
Granted, there were times when Simon’s voice seemed weak. But we can cut the man some slack. After all, he does turn 70 in October. Which reminds me, my Dad told me he recently saw Simon & Garfunkel on TV attending a ballgame at Yankee Stadium. He remarked, “They looked like two old Jews.” To which I replied to my father (who himself turned 70 this past April), “Dad, they are two old Jews.”
Speaking of Garfunkel, the one thing I appreciated from Simon was that he kept the banter in between songs to an absolute minimum. When I saw Garfunkel in concert at the Berklee Performance Center back in May 2007 he went on some silly rant about how it was dangerous to read a poem in George W. Bush’s America. I suggested there were places on earth far more dangerous to recite verse than in the United States. Paul Simon kept it about the music late into the evening.
Yet politics or no politics, I have enjoyed the works of both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel for three decades. And now that I’ve seen both Simon & Garfunkel perform separately all that’s left for me to do is to see them perform together. But if I do I’ll be sitting down.