As the main brain behind Tom and Jerry and more crucially Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Simon’s songs were an antidote to the excesses of the early days of rock and roll. Simon’s early delicate and introspective songwriting has withstood the test of time, affirming his place in the ranks of the top American songwriters.
His love for the early foundations of rock and the broad sweep of international genres was on full display at the Hollywood Bowl in early June. He is about halfway through his North American tour, and he will finish up triumphantly essentially in his original backyard at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.
His band is in fine form, well practiced with a seemingly effortless interplay.
Simon opened the Bowl show with “Boy in the Bubble.” The extended coda alerted all that the evening would not be a jukebox recitation of the recorded versions of his songs. “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover” was another mid-period solo piece, and featured very good use of brass and a B3 organ solo. I haven’t seen a French horn on the Bowl stage outside a Philharmonic concert.
A bluesy 50s shuffle (“Honky Tonk” by Bill Doggett) introduced “Slip Slidin’ Away.” The original loping reggae of “Mother and Child Reunion” was given a more syncopated arrangement. It paired nicely with an amped up “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”
Simon has assembled a versatile nine member band; drummer Jim Oblon picked up lead guitar on a few songs, lead guitarist Mark Stewart moved to flute and then to sax in the brass back line, and later to a didgeridoo.
“Obvious Child” had a tasty marching band color guard flavor that will become popular when Davis Byrne’s next film comes out.
Fifty years separated the title track of Simon’s new album “Stranger to Stranger” and its concert follow up, the jewel “Homeward Bound,” which was the first old song played. The juxtaposition of the two songs was perhaps the best testament to his enduring talent as a songwriter.
Conversely, “El Condor Pasa” was more effectively rendered as an instrumental, its lyrics were always uncharacteristically blunt.
As the evening reached the home stretch, “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes” brought the toe tapping audience to their feet, via Bakithi Kumalo’s slippery fretless bass. The song segued smoothly into “You Can Call Me Al,” and the Bowl was on its feet.
Three encores left the audience satiated; any of the encore songs would be the gem of anyone’s canon: “Graceland,” “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Late in the Evening,” “The Boxer” and “The Sound of Silence.” The finale was originally written by Simon circa 1963. With a new album due June 3, this tour cements Simon’s stature.