Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound: The Farewell Tour” At Madison Square Garden, September 20th, 2018, Reviewed
There have always been a great many retirement tours, some folks, Cher and Ozzy Osbourne, the Who, others, have done them over and over again. But the finality of Elton John, Joan Baez, and Paul Simon, the latter back at Madison Square Garden last Thursday night for the first of two performances, before concluding tonight in Flushing Meadows, is the due of septuagenarian peering at their 80s, has the air of the end.
Paul Simon has been on the scene as long as we can imagine as one of the great songwriters. A wise lyricist and a brilliant musical magpie who has been writing songs since he was thirteen years old, undoubtedly the most consistent songwriter and producer of albums pretty much ever, though not the most prolific; his last two albums of new material, 2011 and 2016, are excellent and he performed three songs off them. I could, almost randomly, choose 26 songs he didn’t perform I would love to have heard, my niece and rock nyc writer Louba Lababedi and companion for the evening (after my ex turned me down -much like a Paul Simon lyric) mentioned “Loves Me Like A Rock,” and I am missing big songs, songs I really wanted to hear, like “Peace Like A River,” “Father And Daughter,” “Take Me To The Mardi Gras,” “Old” and “The Afterlife” -both of which would have been beyond apt, “Cecilia”, “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” “Mrs. Robinson” for fuck’s sake, hell he missed songs that are New Yorkers birthrights, “Feelin’ Groovy…” On Friday he brought out his wife Edie Brickell for “Me And Julio Down At The Schoolyard” so I guess we missed that as well.
I’d go further, when I went to see him at Forest Hills in 2016 (here) not only did he have a better setlist with two more songs, it was friskier and faster on its feet, the average length of a song (including introductions) Thursday night was a mind boggling six minutes Louba compared it to Dead And Company and while that’s pushing it, she isn’t entirely wrong given the differences in genre. Not Paul’s fault but the death of his lead guitarist, Vincent Nguini. was indeed missed, the first song of the evening, “America” was over arranged which meant that the flute that surprises you so much on record is stepped on, and one last thing, the late The Rhythm Of The Saints songs defined the word lull.
So all caveats out of the way, Paul performed a set where the nostalgia was his and belonged to him, when he called for a standing ovation it was a joke and a point at the same time: this was, not untypically, about Paul: a man so bloody minded he ripped a song off Los Lobos and when they complained said: “So sue me”. A man capable of that is a man capable of stabbing Art Garfunkel in the back when they were both teens, and absolutely capable of providing a glorious two and a half hour set that was about his dealing with his own mortality and not his audiences expectations… at all. More power to him. It was a personal send off to one of the 20th Century’s great pop star careers. A career that took him from 50s pop duo, to Everly Brother wannabe, to seminal folk duo, to singer songwriter SNL regular, to World Music star, to elder statesman, and would, at least the live on stage, conclude (Paul said he would continue writing but when? -It has only released two albums of new material in the 10s) Saturday night, a block from where it all began.
It wasn’t Paul’s greatest live moment (I would go with the reopening of the Beacon Theatre in 2009 where Art walked out on stage and blew our minds -I wonder if he will show Saturday?) but he was seriously into it and he was thoughtful, intelligent, his voice took awhile to open up but it got there when he needed to, the practically sold out MSG audience thoroughly enjoyed itself and so did I.
It is hard to overestimate the influence of skills plus time gives to an artist of this stature, I, not unlike you, have never not listened to him. But I have never been fond of him either, there is something suspect about the man, he isn’t cuddly and he isn’t approachable: not even “The Sound Of Silence” his first hit, not even that, is cuddly. His reputation lives itself out in person, and only when he sings about his specific children, on “St. Judy’s Comet” and “Father And Daughter,” does he a make a reconciliation with his audience where he allows us all the way in. For Simon, music comes first and over the years his ruthlessness has become very clear. When you come out of a really good Bruce show it is like you have shared communion, when it comes to Simon even his best shows leave you on your own. This lack of sentimentality is unheard of for an American superstar.
As the time clicked by to the end, Paul was withdrawing in front of us, he loved us but he didn’t take us in his arms and hug us. That’s not the way he does it, the most telling song of the evening was “Homeward Bound” and not why you think, no, because of “and every stranger’s face I see…”,” before Simon And Garfunkel began Simon was retreating from us. And us from him? The nearer our destination…