Live in New York City (Hear Music)
By Brian Arsenault
Deep into Paul Simon Live in New York City, on “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes,” Paul’s voice seems to strengthen and the song becomes one of the jewels of the album. At least until the gratuitous, hackneyed drum solo at the end. (More about annoying drumming later.)
The song reminds you of what Paul Simon used to sound like but, at 70, can’t always manage. Just to be sure, I asked Kath who reveres him like she loves no other musician save maybe Bonnie Raitt. “Does that almost sound like someone else,” I queried. “Put it on another player,” she suggested, but it didn’t sound any different.
His voice just isn’t what it was. But does it matter? Yes, it does. Even though he’s an American musical treasure, the quality of a performance is always vital. Willie Nelson admits that he’s more of a guitarist now because the voice isn’t what it used to be.
Paul Simon is also a wonderful guitarist but the soaring voice of Art Garfunkel was part of what made those Simon songs so magnificent. Its absence is all the more noticeable now.
In many places, Paul makes you forget or at least not care. He plays his guitar wonderfully on not just the intro but the opening verse of “Sound of Silence” and then speak-sings the rest in moving fashion, interrupted only by one of those idiots who thinks he needs to scream out during a great moment in a great song. This was also one of the few places where it’s just Paul and his guitar. Could have used more of that.
“The Only Living Boy in New York” is pitched low enough to work fine. He’s a little off key in places but always touching. And finally he gets a little chorus support for his singing.
Paul Simon’s lyrics are always literate, even literary. At their best they are poetic literature. So we need not really forgive anything as his voice fades. We shouldn’t pretend, though.
The album really shouldn’t open with “The Obvious Child” (guess the concert did) where his voice is weak. And it’s here right off the bat that Jim Oblon’s drumming annoys. He sounds like a wedding band drummer trying to compete with the singer. He hits the snare way too hard and is magnificently mediocre throughout. Or was there a mixing problem?
Paul makes everything okay on “Dazzling Blue” with controlled and sensitive phrasing. Same on “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” “Slip Slidin’ Away” is another highlight, soft enough for his poetic recitation to overcome any voice limitations.
On “Late in the Evening” he and his voice seem to grow younger. Suits the song, doesn’t it? Still, this is not “Live Rhymin’,” when he was younger and his voice vigorous enough to make us believe Art’s absence didn’t matter.
One of course would expect the show to close with “Still Crazy After All These Years” and it does, but one wonders why the intimacy between artist and audience has to be interrupted by a garish sax solo.
Sigh, Paul singing this tune for all his generations of fans was enough.
The accompanying DVD of the show brings home how caring the audience is and it’s fun to see the generally fine collection of musicians around him.
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