One of pop music's greatest songwriters, Paul Simon says goodbye during the second stop of his farewell tour at a packed KeyArena.
Four songs into his two-hour-plus set, Paul Simon decided to give the seated crowd at a packed KeyArena a gentle PSA.
“The way I feel is, if you feel like getting up and dancing sometimes …” he said, trailing off with an implied wink.
The little nudge and zydeco jumper “That was Your Mother” was all the boomer-heavy crowd (or at least a quarter of them) needed, as they sprung to their feet with the first squeeze of the accordion. After all, this was a celebration of one of pop music’s all-time great songwriters who rose amid a generation disproportionately blessed with them. This lengthy arena run, billed as “Homeward Bound — the Farewell Tour,” is supposedly Simon’s last, though he made it clear Friday that he doesn’t care for the word “final.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” he joked early on. “I just wanted to get the ticket prices higher. It worked!”
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While Simon often seemed reflective — musing fondly on being a conduit for an “extraordinary” creative spirit when writing “Graceland” and recalling finding inspiration in a book of René Magritte paintings he flipped through at Joan Baez’s living room — after a few songs, it was easy to forget that this is a retirement run of sorts. (Simon’s stated that while this may be his last major tour, he still plans to make music and perform less extensively). Granted, he’s not falling into the crowd like Bruce Springsteen, but the 76-year-old performer showed no obvious signs of needing to hang it up.
The lively “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” chorus was still so irresistibly white-boy funky, that it’s no wonder it’s kept a legion of dorky dads dancing through the kitchen in Gold Toe socks for 40 years. Unlike some of his peers, Simon’s voice and even-keeled singing style has aged as well as his songs — a point driven home during the a cappella intro to a spirited pass through “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.”
Simon has always surrounded himself with incredibly talented musicians and Art Garfunkel (just playin’, Arty), and this tour is no different. His exceptional 14-piece backing band, rounded out by Brooklyn chamber ensemble yMusic, helped fill the arena and gave some of his songs new life. With the string section half circled around him, Simon kick-started a run of songs off 1990’s samba-inspired “The Rhythm of the Saints” with deep cut “Can’t Run But.” The electrifying rendition — with frenetic violins, runaway flute solos and Simon snapping along like a jazzy protest poet — brought the house down in what was an unexpected highlight of the night. (Why is he calling it quits, again?)
One of pop’s great chameleons, Simon’s been cribbing notes from world music long before Rihanna discovered dancehall, and his embrace of African and Caribbean rhythms into his pop-folk fold has proved timelessly infectious. As the reggae-gospel swing of “Mother and Child Reunion” set in, two women in their 20s or 30s popped up, turning apologetically to the seated crowd behind them. But when the first notes of “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” strummed in, the rest of the section joined them in dancing through one of Simon’s most famous hits.
Similarly, “You Can Call Me Al,” which capped the pre-encore portion, had fans across generations singing in unison, whether they discovered Simon through a first pressing of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or their first karaoke bar.
The many shades of Paul were on display throughout the (two) encores, as “Mrs. Robinson” simmered into a bayou blues romper fit for a crawdad boil, before Simon played jazz crooner on “Still Crazy After All These Years” — a song as classic as your favorite table at your favorite supperclub.
After a string of Simon’s decade-spanning hits and lesser-played gems, we were reminded this was indeed a goodbye as the night wound down, with nostalgic images from his landmark Central Park concert and “Graceland”-era concert posters with Ladysmith Black Mambazo flashing on the screen behind him. After “The Sound of Silence” faded, Simon quoted what he says is a translation of a Spanish phrase: “We aren’t mountains, so we’ll meet again someday.”
Even as now-common farewell tours become increasingly perfunctory, this felt like one to remember.