Masterful Lesson of Simon in Milan

by José Luis Ortiz


A warm applause welcomed Paul Simon to the Milan´s Palavobis scenario, while the magic initial chords of That's Where I Belong rose to the sky. The exceptional concert -the only by Simon in Italian lands - began this way. He´s a musician whose work stores and fuses the most vital flows in the popular music during last 50 years, and it constitutes -for its particularity, master and authenticity - a mainstream itself. From the folk to the gospel, from the funk to the Latin music, from the R&B to the new age, from the country or the hard-rock to the jazz or to the hypnotic rhythms, from the Afro-American music until the east sounds:everything,-expressed in pieces of blinding quality, was present in the Palavobis Auditórium for almost a two and a half hours performance.

The monumental Graceland -in one of the best versions I remember - opened step to a dozen of great agility and rhythmic vigor songs. Next, a brief recess, with a block of three relaxed songs (Old friends/Bookends, Homeward Bound and I Am A Rock), to end in the extraordinary second part of the concert (including the encores), which was characterized by the variety and tempos alternation.

The repertoire was very balanced from the represented times point of view: eight Simon´s songs before Graceland, other eight ones from the disks Graceland and The Rythm Of The Saints, six of the new album and just only five from Simon& Garfunkel´s time. The New Yorker deprived his followers of the big topics from Songs From The Capeman (as Born in Puerto Rico or Trailways Bus) and he paid, significantly, an almost testimonial attention to the songs of the duet. Let us keep in mind The boxer has been, for years, a song Simon rejuvenated; and from the 1999 tour Bridge Over Troubled Water has been assimilated to the You're The One album aesthetics, and finally, I Am A Rock - a completely unpublished piece in Simon from the break up with Art Garfunkel - has suffered important arrangements for the occasion. Therefore, only two songs -Old friends/Bookends and Homeward bound -, both performed only with Simon's guitar, revived the time of the duet clearly. In my opinion, it was the only nostalgic concession from Simon to his auditory and, therefore, the most dispensable part in his memorable performance, and at the same time both songs showed the great difference in musical quality separating the young Simon's work from current Simon´s. In fact, the concert highlight was based on public presentation of new topics from the You're The One album, what is reflection of the enormous Simon´s vitality, being in fullness and artistic validity. The new studio stuff masterful recreation was based on a mixture of emotion and energy, just likein Hurricane Eye perfomance(spectacular concert end before encores), Old (powerful his rhythmic guitar), You're The One (spiritual and elegant), the mentioned That's Where I Belong (the best foreword that Simon has ever used in an album or a concert) or The Teacher (ethereal and full with blends).

As for Simon's classic repertoire, I will only point out the selected stuff excellence. For sure we don't see big novelties in those songs treatment, mainly fixed from Born At The Right TimeTour (1991), but we do appreciate some flavorful shades, coming from guitarist Mark Stewart's inclination to country or both Jamey Haddad's and Steve Shehan´s alive and original percussions. In this line it should be reported the material coming from Graceland or from The rythm of the saints, both brilliantly executed. It is necessary to stress on the extraordinary version of The Coast created by Simon for his tour with Dylan in 1999, and the novel version of Spirit voices to highlight, something slower than that of studio and which has the interesting particularity of substituting for an instrumental section the central part actually in Portuguese -of a magic and poetic beauty - driven by Tony Cedras's accordion. In the same way, Simon's repertoire until Graceland appears, in general, preset by previous tours. It is necessary to mention the singular vitality of pieces like 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover (anthological execution), Late In The Evening, Still Crazy or Me And Julio (the last one with the omission of the whistle interlude). Simon recovered The Late great Johnny Ace, in a near version to the original of studio, after fifteen years without performing it in live. One should remember that, days after Milán concert, in an interview he granted to the critical Julián Ruiz, Simon himself explained his particular predilection for this piece, hidden in Hearts and bones album. However, from the point of view of his fans, the night great surprise was the recovery and splendid revision of the forgotten One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor, being never performed live until this tour and which impeccable execution brings it in the sphere of the New Yorker classics. More debatable it was the -near version to Simon's new style - of his classic Kodachrome, abandoning those Central Park concerts attonishing versions. The one sounding in Milán, like all over this tour, was an absolutely different, relaxed, rich piece full in blends, although less attractive and direct than in previous versions what maybe contributed to it was received with certain scepticism. Much more enjoying was the welcomed new version of American Tune, a song Simon usually performs only with the acoustic guitar. In this occasion, the New Yorker returns partially to the beautiful live version appeared in Greatest Hits, etc., backed by the cello (Mark Stewart), plus a soft battery, similar to the one used in the original recording studio.

José Luis Ortiz Rodríguez

P.S.: I would like to dedicate these lines to Paul Simon's fans -many of them, my friends - and to Simon himself, who is an authentic creator's model in my opinion, a musician in permanent renovation and an unbribable artist who embodies, as very few, the diversity and wealth of the popular music and it continues, fortunately, without delighting himself in his glorious past.




Thanks to Graziano Mangia for these 3 pictures.

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