Paul Simon’s first show at New York’s renovated Beacon Theatre this past Friday night ended with his former partner Art Garfunkel coming onstage to stunned applause by an A-list crowd that included Paul McCartney, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Jon Bon Jovi, Rosie O’Donnell and many others. Nobody expected Garfunkel to show since he had a solo show in Key Largo, Florida, the night before and another one in Fort Piece Florida the following evening, but he flew up on his day off to join Paul for heavily nostalgic performances of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends,” “The Boxer” and “The Sounds of Silence.” I’m sure it was an amazingly powerful moment, but I wouldn’t know since I went to the Saturday show. The Springsteen rule of concert-going says always go to the final concert of a multi-night stand, but that doesn’t take into account Art Garfunkel’s packed calendar.
This wasn’t like missing a spontaneous Who reunion at the end of a Roger Daltrey solo concert. Since breaking with Garfunkel in 1970 Paul has released 10 diverse solo albums whose styles literally span the globe. During the nearly three-hour show, Simon drew from all of them with the exception of 2000’s You’re the One. For a man who will be 70 in just three years, Paul Simon’s voice is remarkably preserved. Many of his peers (Bob Dylan, Elton John, Peter Gabriel) can make no such claim. As usual, he was backed by an ace band that was equally prepared to tackle the complex Brazilian rhythms of “Cool, Cool River” and “Proof” as the gentle harmonies of “Slip Slidin’ Away” and “The Boxer.” Nuggets from his 1986 classic Graceland were sprinkled liberally throughout the night, drawing huge applause each time.
After a 20-minute intermission, Simon uttered words few wanted to hear: “We’re going to do some songs from The Capeman now.” A large doo-wop choir came onstage and you could feel the crowd stifling a collective groan. Eleven years ago, after nearly a decade of work and $11 million, the Paul Simon-penned Broadway play about a Puerto Rican gang member went belly up after a disastrous three-month run. The massive failure stung Simon hard and he’s been searching for redemption ever since, most recently with a five-night run of Capeman performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last year. Paul joined the singers and tried to make the most of the material, but removed from their context it was impossible to follow the story and the whole thing never took off. Simon wisely followed it up with a slowed down, trippy version of “Mrs. Robinson.”
Simon’s pair of Beacon shows commemorated the grand re-opening of the Theatre, which just underwent a $16 million renovation. The place looked truly spectacular and it remains one of the best spots in town to see a show. There was no red carpet Saturday night, and no Beatles or mayors were in the audience. The only celebrity I saw was Wallace Shawn, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself, particularly during “You Can Call Me Al.” When Paul toured with Garfunkel in 2003/04 he played to his biggest crowds in many years, but the set list was confined to a tiny sliver of his overall career. It was great to see him push most of those tunes aside in favor of gems like “Train In The Distance” and “Born At The Right Time.” I have little doubt that same night the crowd at the Sunrise Theater in Fort Pierce Florida saw Garfunkel sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water”; it was likely a killer nostalgia trip, but one Simon didn’t need to take back in his hometown.