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Concert Reviews:
Paul Simon's still excellent after all these years

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Saturday, November 19, 2011

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DETROIT -- Most musical artists at 70 are either winding down, severely, or are a shadow of their former selves.

But at the Fox Theatre on Friday night (Nov. 18), Paul Simon -- who celebrated his 70th in October -- showed he's still surprisingly, and gloriously, in his prime.

He's also seemingly busier than he's ever been. In addition to a lauded new album, "So Beautiful or So What," Simon has also been reviewing his career with new and expanded editions of his solo albums as well as a two-disc "Songwriter" collection. And all of that, past and present, informed Simon's hypnotizingly potent two hours on stage at the Fox.

With his voice in pristine shape and backed by a superlative and versatile eight-piece band, Simon offered a travelogue through his lengthy, hall of fame career that deftly presented his newest material within the context of -- and as a continuum with -- his old material. Following a superlative opening set by the modern bluegrass quintet the Punch Brothers in their first Detroit appearance (bassist Paul Kowert is a native), Simon's percolating "The Boy in the Bubble" led into plucky folk stylings of "Dazzling Blue," with the Punch Brothers' Gabe Witcher recasting his fiddle part from the album. "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" took the near-capacity crowd back to the hits before a playful rendition of "The Afterlife" and then a version of Simon's first solo hit, "Mother and Child Reunion," which accentuated the reggae base of the original recording even more.

That was the pattern throughout the show, with Simon touching not only on "So Beautiful..." material but also digging up a few deeper catalog cuts such as "That Was Your Mother," "Peace Like a River" and "Gumboots," and touching on his musical roots with covers of Junior Parker's "Mystery Train," Chet Atkins' "Wheels" and Bo Diddley's "Pretty Thing." He nodded to his days with Art Garfunkel via a rich rendition of "The Only Living Boy in New York" and a chill-inducing solo version of "The Sound of Silence," while a trio take on the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" was a heartfelt and show-stopping tribute to the late George Harrison.

Simon and company were able to get the mostly boomer-aged fans on their feet, too, especially for a late-show "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" and encore performances of "Kodachrome" (fused into the gospel-flavored "Gone at Last," "Late in the Evening" and "Graceland" before finishing with a gentle "Still Crazy After All These Years." Crazy or not, Simon is still excellent after all these years, a distinction precious few of his peers can claim.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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