You're the One tour - 11.18.00 - Los Angeles, CADec 12, 2000 Write an essay on this topic.
I was fortunate enough to get word of Paul Simon's three shows in LA (November 16-18, 2000) early enough to get really good seats to one of them. I don't go to many concerts, but I figured a chance to see such an experienced performer in a relatively small venue was too good to pass up. The concert was at the Wiltern Theatre, a beautifully restored 1930s art-deco playhouse with great atmosphere, and I was in the third row, so it couldn't get much better.
I went into the show not having heard any of Simon's new songs from You're the One, but for the most part they blended seamlessly with his older works in the concert - a couple times I wasn't sure whether a song was something new or an obscure track from an older album I just hadn't heard. It was a gratifyingly long show, about thirty songs over two and a half hours, all in all a very comprehensive look back on a remarkably diverse songwriting career. Simon threw some unexpected surprises in by including a few less known songs in the mix, which fit in so well with the classics that I began to wonder why they're not played more.
He was supported in almost all the songs by an mind-bogglingly talented 11-piece band of two guitarists (including the amazing Vincent Nguini, one of his collaborators from The Rhythm of the Saints), a bass, four percussionists, two keyboards, and two horns / saxes. The group provided a consistently lush sound, often with all 11 playing at the same time, and they only performed "traditional" renditions of Simon's songs a couple of times. For the most part the set was a substantial and sometimes dramatic reinterpretation that brought a lot of new life to older material.
The show started out low-key with "That's Where I Belong," a nice track from the new album, which seemed to involve the audience intimately with the music from the start. Hearing this song I really realized for the first time how difficult it is to listen to Simon's songs without paying attention to every word of the lyrics. I find that kind of inextricable link between words and music especially satisfying, and it immediately created a real intimacy to the concert, as if the audience were sitting in rapt attention at a poetry reading that just happened to have music accompanying it.
He then moved right into "Graceland," a great, dynamic version that featured a much more prominent slide guitar than other performances I've heard. Simon is fascinating to watch onstage during this song - he literally lunged, physically, into the loud guitar chords, and did a lot of gesturing, as if he were doing sign language to interpret the words for the audience. He continued this for much of the show, especially during more ethereal songs like "The Teacher," which he spent in a bizarre near-dance of fluid arm motions as if he were hypnotized by his own music. This made him seem very distant from the audience at first - a very strange spectacle to watch onstage, as if he barely noticed there was an audience until the first third of the show was over.
As the show picked up Simon made a transition into some of his older repertoire, and as the audience responded he came out of his shell and engaged the crowd quite a bit more. He switched seamlessly between energy and mellowness several times in the middle of the show. Starting with an excellent, jazz-steeped version of "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" he moved to a raucous "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and the meditative, almost otherworldly new track "The Teacher," then from a double-dose of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" / "You Can Call Me Al" straight into a beautiful medley of "Old Friends" / "Bookends" / "Homeward Bound." Just watching the audience when Simon performs songs like these last three is in itself an inspiring experience - turning to look at faces in the crowd it becomes clear how much people really adore this man, and how truly his lyrics and songs have echoed the experiences of multiple generations of American audiences. The crowd was diverse, with more young people than I expected, yet everyone seemed in awe of Simon's songwriting during these more low-key pieces.
In the latter half of the show, Simon presented a dramatically revised interpretation of "I Am a Rock," which became a brasher, less plaintive piece with even some country elements discernable in it. I was also really excited to hear him play "The Coast," a lesser-known The Rhythm of the Saints track which has long been one of my favorite songs. He slowed this down noticeably, to a nearly trance-inducing pace which enhanced the song's mythical-spiritual quality and emphasized how well its irregular lyrics really fit the music. One of the percussionists contributed a beautiful, haunting accordion solo (never thought I'd use those words together) that added considerably to the song's atmosphere, - altogether it was the nicest version of "The Coast" I had ever heard. The very last portion of the show featured another substantially reinterpreted track, "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which discarded the gospel flavor often added to the song in favor of a quiet, new-age synthesized sound that fit remarkably well.
The heart of the show was still, not surprisingly, the tracks when the band faded offstage and left Simon alone with his guitar. Aside from the earlier medley, he held off on most of these songs until the last half-hour of the show, and it was worth the wait. His voice has clearly lost some of its range but seems to have gained texture it never had before, making more world-weary tracks like "American Tune," "Still Crazy After All these Years," and "The Boxer" (his final encore) even more meaningful and personal than I had expected.
Overall the concert was incredible, well worth the ticket price in terms of both quality and quantity of performance - it's a shame that this tour is so short. If possible, definitely watch the PBS broadcasts of the Paris show, which featured a set list and song versions comparable to the LA show. You're the One seems to be getting a tepid reception from reviewers, and I still have yet to hear a few of the new songs, but the ones Simon included in this concert fit in perfectly with those from the rest of his career. Hearing it all live, as a part of an involved and grateful audience, was a mesmerizing and unforgettable experience.
In case you're curious, the entire set list:
That's Where I Belong / Graceland / One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor / You're the One / 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover / That Was Your Mother / Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard / The Teacher / Spirit Voices / Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes / You Can Call Me Al / Old Friends / Bookends / Homeward Bound / I Am a Rock / Darling Lorraine / Old / The Boy in the Bubble / Pledging My Love / The Late, Great Johnny Ace / The Coast / Late in the Evening / American Tune / Hurricane Eye / Kodachrome / Proof / Bridge Over Troubled Water // Pigs, Sheep and Wolves / Mrs. Robinson // Still Crazy After All These Years / The Boxer
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