Paul Simon, ‘Live in New York City’ – Album Review
‘So Beautiful or So What,’ the album Paul Simon released last year, was his best in two decades. It’s funny, smart, tuneful and, most of all, personal. Simon has never shied away from revealing too much. Going all the way back to Simon and Garfunkel’s earliest recordings, and continuing throughout his solo albums, the singer-songwriter finds universal truths through his own relationships.
That he still found much to say about love, life and death at age 70 says a lot about Simon. That he can make a 2011 concert in his hometown of New York City sound like an intimate performance for just a few friends says even more. The 20 songs on the 90-minute ‘Live in New York City’ (which comes with a DVD of the show) span his career — from ‘The Sound of Silence’ to ‘So Beautiful or So What’ — and most of them still sound remarkably fresh.
Part of the credit goes to Simon’s eight-piece band, which holds back on the quieter tracks (‘Hearts and Bones’) and cuts loose on the celebratory ‘Graceland’ songs (there are five of them here). But this is mostly Simon’s show, from the nimble opener ‘The Obvious Child’ (from the underrated ‘Graceland’ follow-up LP ‘The Rhythm of the Saints’) to the closing ‘Still Crazy After All These Years,’ a fitting cap to both the concert and the album.
In between, Simon covers the expected (‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,’ ‘The Sound of Silence’), the unexpected (‘Slip Slidin’ Away,’ ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’) and a few that never pick up much momentum in the setting (’50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,’ ‘Late in the Evening’).
Better are the handful of songs that Simon hasn’t performed onstage in years, including ‘The Obvious Child,’ ‘Mother and Child Reunion’ and ‘Kodachrome.’ And even though the ‘Live in New York City’ versions of the ‘Graceland’ songs aren’t as glorious as they were back when Simon toured with South African musicians in 1987, they’re highlights of the set, with both band and audience connecting with the grooves. And somehow even these moments don’t get away from Simon, who lords over them with a deft, subtle touch. It’s like he’s playing them just for you.