By: Dennis Cook
Paul Simon :: 04.27.11 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
Miles apart, though the miles can’t measure distance
Worlds apart on a rainy afternoon
But the road gets dirty and it offers no resistance
So turn your amp up and play your lonesome tune
Paul Simon is not a big guy. I knew this before walking into The Fillmore but the initial sight of him as the lights dimmed and he joined his band was striking. To look at him he’s not the kind of dude that commands the attention of a boisterous throng, but Simon wielded a forceful, guiding hand on the room, capturing all but a few pockets of numbnuts chatting about their workday or Facebook postings while he plied his craft. Given that the man has commanded the attention of a Central Park sized mob it shouldn’t have come as any surprise how masterfully he worked The Fillmore, but the force and authority of this performance were something to behold – a master and his masterful compatriots in complete control of every aspect of an emotional, expert performance that ranged thoughtfully through an amazing catalogue.
A smile bomb went off as the opening bars of “The Boy In The Bubble” kicked off the night. Always less of a Graceland zealot than most, I was however struck by how modern the song still sounds, as if we’ve finally caught up with what Simon was laying down in 1986. The intercontinental drift of his Tin Pan Alley/Greenwich Village certified style has been present since the days his named was hitched to Art Garfunkel, but his deep reach into American musical traditions and their kindred vibrations elsewhere seems downright prescient now. Throughout this evening, as snippets of New Orleans second line, Nigerian funk, Madagascar twang or whatnot bubbled up, one felt the man’s brilliance and vision in music that genuinely bridges gaps, and maybe even makes us better people if we bother to wrestle with the complexities inside his songs.
Simon’s new album, which formed the backbone of the Fillmore setlist, So Beautiful Or So What (released April 12 on HEAR) is rife with celestial questioning and earthbound tribulations, but not in some hoary “old man peeking into the abyss” way. His wrangling with primal ontology has immediacy and workaday significance, by turns cynical and sly or wide-eyed and believably hopeful, the former bent whipped up ferociously on the tremendous live version of “So Beautiful Or So What” and the latter offered as a groove-addled church rave-up on “Love Is Eternal Sacred Light,” both striking examples of how Simon’s performance and songwriting acumen have lost NOTHING over the years. Hell, his voice seems positively ageless, and his energy in this lengthy set was impressive.
Surrounded by utter pros, Simon stretched out his arms a few times and looked like he was ready to take wing. Beautiful to see a veteran so in the moment, so charged up by the packed masses journeying along with the folks onstage. There was a pretty thick connection flowing back and forth between the conductors and the travelers, perhaps a shared comprehension that this music contains the kernels of understanding and joy. In Simon’s worldview, we are reflected in our dinged-up glory and tattered perseverance, a real vision brought forth by Simon’s humor and honesty.
For some reason, this all seemed evident – as if glowing on the surface of everything around me – in the relatively intimate confines of The Fillmore, which has many times served as a crucible for intense, even life-altering moments. Where one might normally expect to see an artist like Paul Simon with tens of thousands, the 900-1000 folks shoulder-to-shoulder in SF were gifted with a close-up view of one of the greatest musicians America has produced in the past 100 years. One felt both the sharpness of his insight and his abiding compassion in the careful weaving of tunes past and present, in the hearty, jovial interplay between the musicians onstage, and ultimately in the intangible vibe permeating the room, a shiningly smudged patina that left the building with us at evening’s close.
Ain’t it strange the way we’re ignorant
How we seek out bad advice
How we jigger it and figure it
Mistaking value for the price
And play a game with time and love
Like a pair of rolling dice
The Boy In the Bubble, Dazzling Blue, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, So Beautiful Or So What, Vietnam (Jimmy Cliff cover), Mother And Child Reunion, That Was Your Mother, Hearts And Bones, Mystery Train, Wheels (Chet Atkins cover), Slip Slidin' Away, Rewrite, Peace Like a River, The Obvious Child, Only Living Boy In New York, Getting Ready For Christmas Day, Love Is Eternal Sacred Light, Father And Daughter, Diamonds On the Soles Of Her Shoes, Gumboots
Encore 1: The Sound Of Silence, Kodachrome, Gone At Last, Here Comes the Sun (Beatles cover), Late In the Evening, Proof
Encore 2: Still Crazy After All These Years
Paul Simon Tour Dates :: Paul Simon News
JamBase | San Francisco
Go See Live Music!