There was a wild wisp of a curl — just one — in the middle of his bald pate. His voice was still pretty and often angelic if softer. His songs sounded so nostalgic to children of the ’60s, who are now in their 60s and 70s.
Art Garfunkel, the lesser half of Simon & Garfunkel, serenaded an appreciative sellout crowd Thursday night at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis. Paul Simon’s songs were there but not his ambition, innovation and cleverness. Garfunkel was intent on making pretty music, and he did. And he was intent on demonstrating who this 75-year-old eccentric is, a world traveler who sings to cows, acts with Jack Nicholson and pens “prose poems” (his term) on the back of envelopes.
Oh, he’s married to a Twin Cities woman and he assures us that Minnetonka Nice is superior to Minnesota Nice because it’s sexy. Take his word for it.
Garfunkel sang lots of words that Simon wrote for him. But he also spoke many of his own, which will be published in September by Alfred A. Knopf. He read them from envelopes, mini-essays about moments in his life. He saluted his father (“your beautiful musical soul is the author of mine”), waxed poetic about performing at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall (he’d scribbled the words in Hyde Park) and reminisced about singing in synagogue as a 10-year-old (he broke into a Hebrew prayer and touted the acoustics of temples and the Pantages).
Between the poems and spontaneous conversation (about his wife, sons, cellphones at concerts, the vocal paresis that sidelined him in 2010 and, of course, Paul Simon), concertgoers got to know Garfunkel. He was gracious, grateful and quick-witted. There was no evidence of his testy, prickly side, which often surfaces in interviews. He praised Simon, even though their famously fractured friendship (they met in grade school) has derailed any chance of another reunion, at least according to what Simon told Rolling Stone last year.
So Garfunkel keeps it small in concert. Just keyboardist Dave Mackay and Wayzata-bred acoustic guitarist Tab Laven. There were no vocal harmonies, a trademark of Simon & Garfunkel. But Garfunkel’s solo voice sounded familiar if fading during two 40-minute sets.
His reedy tenor has grown smaller and thin. It’s still pretty, like a whispering angel. But he’s unable to reach the high notes on classics like “Homeward Bound.” On “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” he sounded weary at the beginning and troubled and flat as the song rolled on. It was far from epic.
Garfunkel was more effective playing things small. The attentive crowd gave spirited applause to the dreamy “Kathy’s Song” (one of Garfunkel’s favorite Simon songs, he said) and “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” the lullaby that served as the lone encore selection.
Saying “there’s no Paul Simon in this,” Garfunkel offered one of his own compositions, 2002’s “Perfect Moment,” which featured lovely swirling guitar and keyboards but unmemorable love lyrics. He did other selections from his solo career, including a medley of “A Heart in New York” and “All I Know,” which he ended on a low, not high, note.
To the crowd’s delight, Garfunkel did justice to the songs of Simon — obscure ones like “The Side of a Hill” and classics like “Scarborough Fair,” with its gorgeous guitar chordings. This performance wasn’t nearly as exciting, enriching or adventurous as Simon’s two concerts at the Orpheum Theatre last summer. But it is all Garfunkel knows.