Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Still Surprising After All These Years: Unexpected Covers Highlight Paul Simon's Endearing October 23, 2011 Set At The Santa Barbara Bowl

Here's the thing. 

When you've been at it...and been good at it...for as long as Paul Simon has, putting together a killer set list is a relatively pedestrian task. 

But putting together a set list that fully satisfies the appetite of the hits-craving fan and still manages to surprise the more adventurous listener, that's something else entirely, and that's exactly what Paul Simon accomplished on this gorgeous, foggy night at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

Taking the stage fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, Simon and his nine piece backing band broke into a rousing, pitch-perfect version of Graceland opener The Boy In The Bubble.  As would be the case all night, the sound was fantastic...a credit to both the venue, my new L.A. area favorite, and Simon's mixer, who did a dazzling job coordinating the interplay of the ten men on stage, all multi-instrumentalists.

Following that opener, the concert hit its weakest stretch, with Simon choosing to ease into the night with a string of very mellow offerings...Dazzling Blue and So Beautiful So What off of his latest release, a funked up but still low key version of 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, and Mother And Child Reunion.  None of these songs came off poorly, but none really impressed either, with the band's playing clean but slow, as if everything had been worked down a few beats per minute to accommodate the advancing age of some of the musicians on stage.

But as with Paul McCartney's 2009 Coachella show, once Simon was sufficiently warmed up, the concert took flight.  The transitional moment here came six songs in with a return to Graceland (which was definitely the star album of the night) and a lively, jug band-flavored rendition of That Was Your Mother, which then immediately flowed into excellent covers of Junior Parker's Mystery Train and Chet Atkins's Wheels.

From that point forward, the show became one of constant change and surprise. 

Among the 27 song set's other highlights were a knockout solo acoustic version of The Sound Of Silence to start the first of two very long encores (featured in the Youtube video above), an acoustic duet cover of George Harrison's Here Comes The Sun, an extended jam on Late In The Evening, a rocking Bo Diddly cover in which Simon allowed his drummer Jim Oblon to take lead vocals, and my favorite of the night, a surprise performance of The Only Living Boy In New York, one of my very favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs, but the last song I expected to hear on this night.

Finally, after two-hours and ten minutes, Simon and the band settled in for one last number, fittingly Still Crazy After All These Years, which ended on a fabulous sax solo so worthy of Clarence Clemons, I wondered if it was intended by Simon as a tip of the hat to the recently deceased "Big Man." 

Regardless, it was a wonderful close to a magical night.

Here's a fan captured video of the last number and that awesome sax solo.

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