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Paul McCartney, Miley Cyrus, Kanye West, Paul Simon On Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary Special, February 15th, 2015, Reviewed

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The Two Pauls

 

What do you get if you boil down thousands of hours of Saturday Night Live to its best 210 minutes? You get something it never has, a consistent comic vision. Broken into internal segments (sports figures, politics, dead former members, musical comedy, etc), the anniversary show was at least always amusing, often very very amusing funny, and sometimes achingly funny, cream of the show show.

If you watch Lorne Michael’s creation in 2015, the main texture is wild inconsistency and lazy sketches. 2012 was so bad my partner in crime Helen Bach refused to watch it with me any more. Even SNL’s choice of musical guest stopped being cutting edge a long long time: the night time talk show hosts are much more likely to push the musical envelope.

But we have come here to praise SNL not to bury it. Actually, we have come here to praise Daryl “I’ll take ‘Whore Ads’ for $200, Trebek” Ferrell, the star of the funniest segment, the Jeopardy parody, of the entire evening. Will’s slow burn as Alex Trebek is pretty excellent as well.

We’re not here to discuss that either.

Or even Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s excellent 40 years retrospective opening musical number, taking their “History Of Hip Hop” as a jumping off point and switching it to SNL catechisms and catch phrases. Jimmy Fallon was the crown prince of the evening, Steve Martin, who has never been a member of the cast, and whose King Tut got shortchanged, the King. Lorne, tearing up at the end, was God Almighty (“It’s a laugh, but is it the right laugh?” as Mike Myers mimicked him on a “Wayne’s World” segment).

We’re here to discuss the musical guests.

Helen Bach, before falling asleep half an hour in with an “OK, they’ve lost it”, just like the old days, called Paul McCartney’s gospel tinged “Maybe I’m Amazed” the best version she’s ever heard. What McCartney did with  that falsetto link before the bridge is a thing of joy forever and truly amazing that his voice is still so strong. He’s had a busy year but despite his insistence on pushing forward, and getting a huge hit single with Kanye West and Rihanna for his efforts, he treats his back catalog with the reverence it deserves. McCartney is a powerhouse here – A

Miley Cyrus looks positively conservative singing a sexy, and also conservative take, on Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” while not changing genders. She kills the chorus, takes it nice, smooth with a growl, and lets the beat do the heavy lifting for her. The ending is so impressive, she sings and growls, tears it up well. Hell, she testified and despite her strange accent (why is she singing like that?) pulled it through – B+

When I covered 12-12-12 at MSG, Kanye West’s twelve minute segment was the best of the evening (the Stones came in second), yet he was bizarrely hated on for the thrilling, weird, experimental and straight up beautiful and brave music he provided.Same goes here. West is not much good at anything except music, his words about the entertainment business and fashion, is too abrasive to be taken seriously: the man is a putz. Plus, leather kilts and his baby daughter in furs? Yuck. Of course Beyonce was a much better album that Morning Phase, but so what? Shut up and sing. On his back midstage, “Jesus Walks” has a stark and beautiful and angry sound, the ego and disturbed track (his breakthrough, thank you Jay Z), West is spitting out the words and the beats are a swirl undercurrent. “Mama always said only Jesus can save us…” West wrapped, leading directly to “Only One”. “Only One” is a very important connection to his much missed mother. Remember, Kanye is and always has been a mama’s boy. “Only One” is a relation to some of his other mama tracks: “Jesus Walks”, “Hey Mama”, “Coldest winter”. “Coldest Winter” was a deep mourning song but with “Only One”, really, by implication the birth of his daughter, West can celebrate his mother again. “Wolves” may take me awhile to get a handle on. Elsewhere I sort of dismissed it, but it may just be taking time to sink in. Sia wearing a sponge and Vic Mensa taking the hook, provide West with a contemporary backdrop on this break up song- A-

My friend and contemporary,  rock critic Ken Shane, the person around my age whose tastes most consistently coincides with mine, considers this “Still Crazy After All These Years” the musical highlight of the evening. I don’t. It is a beautiful version, and it allows the SNL the opportunity to shine, and I don’t know what else Simon could’ve chosen, and still it seemed a little obvious. Incidentally, Simon, in a gorgeous suit, looked great and, like the other great Paul earlier in the evening, was in superb voice. There is nothing to complain about really, and at the top of the show with Paul auditioning to be host (“I told you we should have done ‘Sound Of Silence'” Simon quips) proves he still has great comic timing.  – B+

So that’s it pop pickers. Helen Bach is drooling on the pillow and everything is where it was.

 

 

 

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