on September 20, 2012
Paul Simon is the consummate artist/musician; a guy that still cranks out fantastic new music after 50+ years in the business. For me, it was a no-brainer to pick up this new CD/DVD combo package. I've been a Paul Simon fan since I was a kid, and I've been to more than a few of his concerts, including the opening show for this tour (Seattle, April 15, 2011). The music from the Webster Hall concert does not disappoint. The band is tight, Simon is in excellent voice, and the song set is outstanding! My only regret is that some major tunes performed that night were cut for this release: Vietnam (a song by Jimmy Cliff), Mystery Train, Wheels, Peace Like a River, Questions for the Angels, Road to Nowhere (with David Byrne) and You Can Call Me Al(with David Byrne). The saddest deletion for me is Mystery Train. I heard Simon say on "Center Stage" (talk show in NY) that Mystery Train is his favorite Rock N' Roll song, and in another interview, he said that 60% of his music is based on Mystery Train. Amazing! No wonder there are so many Elvis references in his movie "One Trick Pony". Anyway, it would have been great for Paul to make all the songs from this wonderful Webster Hall concert available on this release. Nevertheless, what is released is exceptional and well worth buying.
Paul Simon's music has been a part of my generation's life for so long that it's possible that he's taken for granted by some. This magnificent collection of songs, none from what I consider his lovely, though musically immature, S&G period - save for an obligatory Sounds Of Silence and the resurrected Only Living Boy From New York - stands as a testetament to Simon as songwriter. There is a reason why he was awarded the Gershwin Prize for American Popular Music my friends. And that reason is that his singular muse, his distinctive style, his constant and continual pursuit of new musical vistas has made him the country's greatest composer of popular song. Yes - above Bob Dylan, and on equal footing with Stephen Sondheim.
The songs included in this concert rank with Simon's best, particularly those from So Beautiful or So What. Dazzling Blue is an exquisite gem, and The Afterlife retains its vitality and witty rhythmic wordplay ("hey, what you say, it's a glorious day - by the way how long you been dead? Maybe you maybe me maybe baby makes three but she just shook her head")
The Obvious Child starts things off with a slower tempo than the original - bringing a sense of majesty to its powerful rhythmic foundation. No slowdown for That Was Your Mother - it remains joyful, and its shufflin' Cajun rhythm will still make you jump up and dance. And its during this song - the sixth on the CDs - that the band gels into a groove and really comes alive. Slip Slidin' Away has more poignancy now that our generation is in its fifth or sixth decade. I could go on and on.
That said, it should be noted that Simon himself seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself - something not to be taken for granted. Never a dynamic performer who seeks to ingratiate himself with his audience (i.e., the You're The One DVD) Simon relies on the music itself to do that. In this show SImon seems happy and more than comfortable on stage. As well he should be - his band remains an extraordinary ensemble who do justice to the quality of the music they are presenting.
If you are an old fan you will love hearing the Graceland songs, Kodachrome, and Still Crazy After all These Years - songs that have retained their beauty and have gained "classic" status. If you are relative new to Simon's recent work you are in for a treat. This is mature popular music in the finest sense of the word. Simon's craftsmanship never quite leads your ear to expected places, and his lyrics are smart, witty, and meaningful.
Reading this over, I realize that this sounds awfully serious and somber, where I really meant to be respectful. So let me just end by saying that this set is a lot of fun. It contains joyful music that will bring back memories of your youth, and give you pause to celebrate the moments of today.
If this is how terribly strange it is to be 70, well, I'm looking forward to it.
on September 20, 2012
If you were fortunate enough to see the PBS/BBC broadcasts from Webster Hall then you are in for a returning treat. I last saw Paul Simon live on the main stage at Glastonbury, and though I enjoyed it, being out doors, bright and open I felt he was at times singing to the wind, necessarily on autopilot. Once indoors at Webster Hall the material becomes less iconic and yet more wonderful. The band (as ever) is fantastic, particularly the array of percussion which I enjoyed rather than merely tolerated. As usual the guitarists were more than just first class, and, like Paul Simon himself, were clearly enjoying themselves. If you are still unsure about the legacy of the 1960s and hesitate to venture into Paul Simon's material then this is a fine place to take the plunge. If you are merely an aging folkie, like me, then this will enthrall. It is too bright to be nostalgic, too exiting merely to recall better times. I really did think of the old Cajun cry: Laissez les bons temps rouler!
I have seen the DVD of this concert literally hundreds of times now, and for one simple reason -- it has become my two-year-old son's favorite. Little did I know that my plan to start playing a bunch of different music DVDs for him would never get past this disc, which was the first one I put in. From the minute I pointed to the drummer in the opening riff of "The Obvious Child", the first song on the DVD, and said "Look, drums!", my fate was sealed. I don't know if I will ever be able to watch anything else on TV, this is all the boy wants to see.
And the interesting thing is, I don't mind. I like Paul Simon a lot, and I've seen a lot of the concert DVDs, including the two Simon and Garfunkel reunion shows in Central Park and Madison Square Garden. This is very different and in my view it's one of the best concert recordings I've ever seen. Paul Simon looks a lot older, but he sounds better than ever.
The musicianship is outstanding. Everyone is a multi-instrumentalist, and there is real inventiveness here. I was particularly impressed that the grand piano at stage right was transformed into prepared piano for "Rewrite" to emulate the sound of the kora on the original recording. Or the piano player playing the inside strings of the piano like a cimbalom. Or the saxophonist/flutist/glockenspiel player in the back. Or the accordion/keyboard/trumpet guy. Or the drummer/slide guitar player.
Old hit songs are transformed into new creations while staying true to the original spirit. There are layers upon layers of arranging and playing to really sit back and enjoy. And the tracks from his most recent studio album are among the best in the show, showing a combination of rhythmic complexity and tunes that you just can't shake out of your head.
Paul Simon still has it, both as a writer and performer. And I still don't mind fulfilling my son's constant requests. "Drums!", he shouts, and starts playing air drums with the opening bars. I join him, settling in for a rerun of one of the best shows I've seen.
on January 12, 2013
Paul Simon reissues are a self-contained industry. Sony's reissues of Simon's studio recordings have revealed the warmth of original performances. Compilations by Sony and Warner, in comparison, have been repetitive, less consistent and dependable. But now we have this deeply moving, energizing release, and Lazarus emerges from the dead.
When I first listened to audios of this 2011 Webster Hall concert, I was transfixed in about two minutes. After that, I could not divert my attention from the brilliance of this composer's imagination, or this performer's understated heart. The sonics are very fine. The content is generous: roughly 85 minutes of concert audio on two CDs, and a complete DVD of the Webster performance.
One of my favorite albums of 2012 was RANDY NEWMAN LIVE IN LONDON (NONESUCH) a wrenching, beautiful album and DVD by a master composer and performer. In this performance, Paul Simon clears the bar Newman did in his extraordinary performance; but where Newman relied on a grand piano and back-up chamber orchestra, Simon turns to his guitar and a street-smart back-up band. His set list spans the peaks of the Simon and Garfunkel Years, taps the best of his work at CBS and Warner, and touches recent compositions, too.
In his rendition of "The Only Living Boy in New York" the melancholy those of my of my generation feel about the past strikes like a Mack truck. Simon's performance is so thoughtful and heartfelt, and his set list so well-chosen, that listeners of all generations must pause and wonder. We're happy that an innovator still creates, sings, and inhabits legendary spaces like Webster Hall, in which the ghosts of Simon's forbears performed and recorded their work.
The only disappointment here is in the packaging, which fails consumers in a few negligible ways. Too-light cardboard stock used for packaging leads to easy tears. Poor planning for easy removal of discs is annoying. The lamination is tacky and documentation too brief. What should have been an historic release has been issued in a package designed for a routine issue, and that annoys old men like me, for whom the physical piece is part of the album.
That aside, there are 19 indelible performances here by one of our great singer/songwriters, and a fine video of the New York event, too. Concord wanted to add value. If they'd had the courage to charge consumers another buck, they might have created a lasting archival package for those who buy brick-and-mortar albums. A physical package that lasts.
Music matters more, though, and in this case, the compositions, performance and sonics save the day. This is an unusually fine piece of musical history performed by an artist whose skills are too unique to be parodied or duplicated.
on July 18, 2013
a longtime fan of simon (and simon&garfield), i put a bunch of his stuff in my music box & this was a lesser part of the stash -- for the usual outdoor concert reasons: up-and-down sound compared to indoor & studio; song versions that seem at this distance to have been included more for fan expectation than from his own interest. this will be read as a complaint but it shouldn't be; life is a joyride and if every experience was graded "a" it would be pretty boring.
on October 30, 2013
I'm not a huge Paul Simon fan, but I purchased this because I heard it was good. I was not disappointed. There are a few songs I always pass up, but it's great music. You can put in the DVD and let it play and just enjoy the music.
on September 12, 2013
I have been wearing this out since I got it. The band is absolutely incredible. The songs are all amazing (with the possible exception of "The Afterlife"). Plus you get the DVD so you can watch this electrifying performance rather than just listen to it. One of the best album I have ever heard.
on March 3, 2013
Great program, great performances...and what a band! Be sure to notice all of the unusual instruments, and keep an eye out for the piano being played using mallets.
The program covers material from Paul's, Simon and Garfunkle days, right up to his latest album release. But, if you're expecting 'cookie cutter' arrangements of these old songs, you'll have to look elsewhere. The new instrumentation and aggangements here, make these great old songs brand new again, and better than ever.
It's difficult for me to believe that Paul Simon is in his 7th decade ( I recall his 'Old Friends' lyrics: '... how terribly strange to be seventy ...'), he's never performed better and the band is as tight as a drum. NOTHIN' BUT NET!
Others in this forum, complained about sound quality. Here's what I heard:
DVD sound is crisp and clean but imaging was only narrow stereo, almost monophonic. My video system still uses a Dolby Matrix surround system, circa 1980's. With this DVD, my rear channels produced low level ambient sounds, only. Normally, with stereo or 5.1 surround programs, the rear signals are strong and quite effective...I rather like the effect. However, that effect was almost non existent with this DVD. In fact, I actually thought the sound was monophonic... even with my usual 7 foot seperation between speakers.
CD sound was warmer and less detailed. I think CD sound engineering might have been hurried, however, the stereo sound stage and imaging was far better on the CD than on the DVD.
Overall, I'd give both the CD sound and the DVD sound 2 1/2 stars each, but for different reasons. Nevertheless, both get 5 stars for music, performance and enjoyment.
I listened to the CD's before I watched the DVD, That was a mistake. While I enjoyed the music only program, I look forward to listening again. Now that I watched the singer and the band perform, I'll truly appreciate what I'll be hearing!
on April 1, 2013
Paul Simon is a phenomenon. He seems to be able to just keep turning out really great new songs - maybe not every album, but certainly this one is excellent. A great gift for anyone who enjoys Paul Simon.