REVIEW: Smiling and swaying to his own songs, the singer-songwriter was low-key, artful.
Paul Simon, one of the greatest American singer-songwriters in the history of popular music, is intensely intellectual, persistently perfectionist and notoriously neurotic. He is the Woody Allen of pop. And that's a compliment.
Nothing summarizes Simon's defining obsessiveness as a lyricist and musicmaker more concisely than the title of one of his 1984 singles -- "Think Too Much." But the thinking cap (or his usual baseball cap) was gone at last on Monday night at the Minneapolis Convention Center auditorium. Simon was relaxed, lost in his performance instead of being preoccupied with listening to his musicians, which he had done so fastidiously and distractingly in concert in 2006 at Northrop Auditorium, his last Twin Cities appearance.
After the first song on Monday, Simon was smiling. During the second number, he was swaying to the music. In the middle of the third tune, he blurted a "whew" in mid-chorus and boogied to the organ solo. Despite those Kodachrome, er, cell phone moments and 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, ultimately like Simon himself, as moody as it was moving.
In his career, Simon has collected sounds and players from different countries to create a musical melting pot. His concert with a superb, eight-man multi-culti band became a 25-song travelogue that journeyed to Africa, Jamaica, New Orleans, Memphis and, of course, his hometown of New York City. Honoring his influences, he covered songs by Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Jimmy Cliff and incorporated elements of gospel, doo-wop, reggae, jazz, Afrobeat, flamenco, soul and Latin music in his own songs.
As he is wont to do in concert (even with Simon & Garfunkel), Simon reimagined his material with accessibly exotic arrangements. "50 Ways to Lose Your Lover" had a march beat, "Slip Slidin' Away" became slick doo-wop, and "Hearts and Bones" was pumping with some chicken-pickin' country guitar.
He offered five songs from his fine new album, "So Beautiful or So What." While they seemed unfamiliar to most of the 3,000 concertgoers, the rockabilly shuffle "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light" is likely to be more memorable than the swirling "Dazzling Blue," the ominous "So Beautiful or So What" (introduced by the timely "as someone who comes from New York," he saluted the end of "a 10-year wait for a sense of justice" without mentioning Osama bin Laden by name) and the soft, shimmering "Questions for the Angels" (in which he name-checks Jay-Z like Bob Dylan plugged Alicia Keys in one of his recent songs).
Since Simon has been embraced of late by young indie-rock fans (and influenced such hip bands as Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes and Arcade Fire) as well as their baby-boomer parents, it was not surprising that the crowd was clamoring Monday for some upbeat numbers. (Maybe more of the indie crowd will show up Tuesday night at sold-out First Avenue for a rare general-admission club gig by the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.)
And the 69-year-old Simon accommodated in the home stretch, with the snap-along "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" with its jam-band ending, the boogieing "Kodachrome" and the Motown-meets-revival "Gone at Last," sandwiched around an enrapturing solo acoustic "The Sounds of Silence."
Even though the show sometimes felt like people hearing without listening, it proved that Simon is still vital after all these years.
For set list: www.startribune.com/artcetera. Jon Bream • 612-673-1719 Twitter: @jonbream