Nottingham, Saturday, November 12, 2016
This is a concert I attended over a year ago so, while I may not remember all the details, this review is written to the best of my recollection.
For someone who likes going to concerts as much as I do and who has liked Paul Simon’s music for as long as I can remember, it’s kind of weird I haven’t seen him live before tonight. And then again, maybe not. Because he’s one of the big shots. One of the expensive ones. One of the ones whose concerts often sell out. In other words, it can be a challenging affair even to get a ticket or be able to afford one. The concert I really wanted to see, at the Royal Albert Hall, was sold out, so necessity drove me up North to Nottingham, and I’m glad it did because it’s not only Paul Simon I haven’t seen before. I’m glad to say my first trip to Nottingham is a pleasant one. My hotel room has got a lovely view of the city and is in walking distance to everywhere I need to go in the two days I’m here. I go in search of Robin Hood and Nottingham’s infamous caves. I see traces of both, but let’s face it, the point of this trip is tonight’s concert – Paul Simon touring his latest album, Stranger to Stranger.
Motorpoint Arena is one of those nondescript venues that are not really worth even mentioning but I’ve got a great seat close to the stage, and that’s all that matters. It’s no surprise that Simon is accompanied by a killer-band but it’s still nice to have it confirmed; Paul Simon has a KILLER-band. These musicians are so good I’d happily listen to them play instrumental versions of Simon’s songs, but the extra icing on the cake is Simon singing on top of these wonderful players.
As expected, the setlist is a blend of old and new with a repertoire with at least a dozen of those kinds of songs that can boast of being ‘Classics’. Highlights for me include Rewrite, a song about a writer doing what all writers have to do in order to hopefully create a Classic – rewriting the bloody thing. America is moving and makes me nostalgic for a time – and place – I wasn’t even born in. New songs Werewolf and Wristband are instant new favourites, both songs humorous and clever and funky and both with brilliant instrumentation. It’s songs like these that really hammer home the importance of the skill of great songwriting and the art of musical arrangement – the music and the words are not just thrown together, they actually collaborate, as if the music tells the story and the words are played like an instrument. Werewolf is prefaced by an anecdote about an instrument Simon was given as a present, a gopichand. Simon decided to use the gopichand for a song he was writing at the time, and when he thought the instrument sounded like a werewolf, it made him realise that ‘Hey, I guess I’m writing a song about a werewolf.’
Simon’s dry, deadpan humour is aired several times this evening, for instance when someone in the audience shouts, ‘We love you, Paul,’ and he shrewdly responds, ‘Why not?’
I always loved the song Graceland, not least of all because of its lyrics and the beautiful guitar part on the song, so it’s a joy to hear the guitar playing that alluring intro and Simon singing, ‘The Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar…’. I can do without You Can Call Me Al, but I understand why he plays it since it’s obviously an audience favourite and inspires lots of dad-dancing all around the venue. Of his dancier songs, I’m much keener on Late In the Evening, one of the many songs where the horn section really gets to shine.
After two encores Simon comes back on stage a final time – this time alone, to play.. could it be The Sound of Silence? No, it’s American Tune. I really wanted to hear him sing The Sound of Silence but I’m not complaining. American Tune is a beautiful song, and while maybe not quite as famous as The Sound of Silence, it’s an equally poignant way of ending the set in that style Simon does so well; being a little bit nostalgic, being carefully hopeful, but mostly just being present.
Paul Simon setlist
2. The Boy in the Bubble
3. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
4. Dazzling Blue
5. That Was Your Mother
7. America (Simon & Garfunkel song)
8. Mother and Child Reunion
9. Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
10. Spirit Voices
11. The Obvious Child
12. Stranger to Stranger
13. Homeward Bound (Simon & Garfunkel song)
14. El Condor Pasa (If I Could) (Simon & Garfunkel song)
16. The Werewolf
17. The Cool, Cool River
18. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
19. You Can Call Me Al
20. Proof (Instrumental)
23. Still Crazy After All These Years
24. One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor
25. The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel song)
26. Late In the Evening
27. American Tune