Paul Simon at Gibson Amphitheatre: Street smart
For all the intellectual acumen Paul Simon has been bringing to his lyrics for nearly half a century, for all the emotional complexity and instrumental dexterity in his songs, his return swing through Southern California on Wednesday night at the Gibson Amphitheatre underscored that so much of what he’s done in that long and distinguished career boils down to the fundamental joys of street music.
For Simon, it began with what he picked up during his youth on the gritty urban streets of New York and New Jersey, but over time expanded organically to include regionally specific sounds of Manhattan (circa the Brill Building), New Orleans and Lafayette, La., Nashville, Liverpool, Peru, Soweto, Lagos, Rio di Janeiro, Havana, Bombay and beyond.
His set list Wednesday had much in common with the one from the first leg of his tour that came through Los Angeles last spring, including a generous sampling from his standout new album, “So Beautiful or So What.” The core set was fleshed out with a few extras, including the Simon & Garfunkel reunion tune from 1975, “My Little Town,” and what appeared Wednesday to be a truly spontaneous final encore number following two exceptionally enthusiastic curtain calls.
The members of his monstrously flexible, razor sharp band were setting their instruments down and preparing to take their final bow following “Still Crazy After All These Years” when Simon, placing his hand to his chest and bowing to the crowd, turned to the band and raised his index finger, mouthing the word “Al.”
Without dropping a beat, the musicians grabbed their instruments and launched into “You Can Call Me Al,” punctuated by Simon's three-piece horn section and incessantly infectious rhythm section. It was a party that would have erupted into dancing in the streets virtually anywhere on the planet.
-- Randy Lewis
Photo of Paul Simon. Credit: Geoff Gans.