Our dangling conversation with Paul Simon is about to end. At least, as far as live performances go. On Friday, Simon brings his farewell concert tour to Xcel Energy Center. So it’s time to look back on all the Twin Cities concerts by America’s second-greatest songwriter of the rock generation (after Bob Dylan, of course). That’s 52 years of live shows, dating back to 1966 with Simon & Garfunkel. Simon, now 76, also has shared Twin Cities stages with three other greats, Brian Wilson, Sting and Dylan.
1966 Simon & Garfunkel, Dayton’s Auditorium
Back in the day, the cool concerts — Yardbirds, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Dionne Warwick — took place in Dayton’s eighth-floor auditorium. Neither the Star nor the Tribune reviewed either of S&G’s two sets, which were in conjunction with a teen fashion show (the papers were separate then, with afternoon and morning editions). But the Tribune interviewed the duo. The two 24-year-olds went for a ride on a 30-foot cabin cruiser on Lake Minnetonka. “We’ve made it on the strength of our originality,” Garfunkel said. “We’ve made a lot of money and have no regrets.”
1967 Simon & Garfunkel, Augsburg College Melby Gym
Minneapolis Star critic Peter Altman, who taught in the English department at the University of Minnesota, concluded that the 6,000 young people in attendance (I was one of them) “pay lip service to this music and like its token rebellion. ... It is not music that demands you listen and think. It is not profound, but as popular music goes, given its lack of variety, it is rather good. It certainly was appreciated.”
1968 Simon & Garfunkel, Minneapolis Auditorium
Freelance critic Daniel Marston spent most of his review for the Star reassuring parents that the kids at the concert were well behaved and that this music isn’t going away because there’s a “new consciousness” (his quote marks) arising among young people. Not one song was mentioned by title.
1983 Simon & Garfunkel, Parade Stadium
This reunion tour was engineered by their Minneapolis-reared manager Mort Lewis, who insisted they play in his hometown in front of 25,000 people. S&G had separate dressing rooms but harmonized nicely during a consummately professional, occasionally emotional performance that this critic dubbed “neither transcendental nor eventful.”
1991 Paul Simon, Target Center
Twenty years after launching his solo career, Simon finally made his local solo debut. He accented the kind of rhythms that make worldbeat music so alluring instead of the kind of lyrics and melodies that made him famous. Overall, it was oddly paced, too ambitious and too subtle musically, and ultimately unsatisfying.
1999 Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, Canterbury Park
Simon’s shortish set was a tribute to the way he likes to challenge himself and his listeners musically. There was not consistent emotion or character in his voice, but the arrangements and the musicians stood out, especially on songs from “Graceland.” Simon duetted with Dylan on what sounded like Simon & Garfield the Cat’s “The Sound of Silence,” a satisfying medley of “I Walk the Line” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and a magical “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
2001 Paul Simon and Brian Wilson, Xcel Energy Center
Both are fussy, ambitious musicmakers obsessed with sound but they didn’t perform together. Simon was a smiling and dancing fool, striking Elvis-like poses and generally acting like the life of the party for the first time in his long career. He thanked the staff at Park Nicollet Clinic for helping him with his sore throat so that he didn’t have to cancel the show.
2003 Simon & Garfunkel, Xcel Energy Center
What made this musical reunion extra special was the performers’ emotion and spirit. Simon and Garfunkel, whose friendship of 50 years has often been fractured, seemed comfortable and happy to be together. For a change, the serious Simon exhibited a joy in singing that matched Garfunkel’s eternal glee and sense of wonder.
2006 Paul Simon, Northrop auditorium
He seemed more like a multi-culti, rhythm-obsessed maestro than one of America’s greatest popular music stars. The songs, the arrangements and the musicians were the star; he wasn’t. It almost seemed as if the studied, meticulous musicmaker was performing for his own satisfaction, not that of the audience. When a fan shouted “Happy birthday,” Simon retorted: “I’m happy, too. About 20 percent of the time.”
2011 Paul Simon, Minneapolis Convention Center
Despite Simon’s relative enthusiasm, his two-hour performance was more low-key than lively, more nourishing than nostalgic and more artful than Artie (as in Garfunkel — there were only two Simon & Garfunkel pieces). In short, it was very good but, like Simon himself, as moody as it was moving.
2011 Paul Simon, First Avenue
The night after playing to 3,000 at the Convention Center, he entertained half as many (for a mere $51.25 a ticket) at the packed legendary nightclub. Even though the set list was the same save for two tunes, the previous night was superior because he was more animated, talkative and vocally assertive. He seemed tired on the second night and didn’t reach out to the up-close crowd.
2014 Paul Simon and Sting, Xcel Energy Center
This pairing was certainly more successful than tours Simon has done with Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson, even though, on paper, the Simon-Sting hookup didn’t make much sense beyond their shared love of reggae and world-music rhythms. Backed by merged bands, Sting and Simon found a vocal blend that worked. Simon also saved the day when part of the sound system failed Sting during his set, so Simon joined him for some ad-libbed acoustic duos.
2016 Paul Simon on “A Prairie Home Companion,” Fitzgerald Theater
When host-in-waiting Chris Thile started talking to Simon after they’d performed “Gone at Last,” Thile’s voice suddenly got high. So Simon needled him by responding with a playfully high voice. There was no joking when it came to the music: Simon dusted off 1972’s “Duncan,” offered 2011’s “Rewrite” and delivered a world premiere of “Wristband,” a humorous ditty about not getting backstage access without the proper wristband even though he was the concert’s headliner. When the two-hour radio broadcast was over, Thile coaxed Simon into an encore. “This is as unrehearsed as the rest of the stuff,” said Simon, as he and Thile’s band treated the crowd to “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”
2016 Paul Simon, Orpheum Theatre
Never the happiest of souls, Simon seemed almost joyful. Covering a songbook that ranged from the current “The Werewolf” to 1965’s “The Sound of Silence,” he seemed to take pleasure in his performance instead of merely listening to the sounds of his magnificent band. He smiled easily and cracked some sarcastic jokes. It was Simon proving he’s still vital after all these years.