Ryman Simon Round-Up


Paul Simon at the Ryman. Photo by Heather.

Last week I said I was planning on posting a few more thoughts from the Paul Simon concert Heather and I went to at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, but then I got distracted by the whole getting-engaged thing. Here then are a few more-reviewy details. (I’m basically just typing my notes as I made them, so it’ll be the set list, interrupted by thoughts.)

– We got there a little late, unfortunately, so don’t know what he opened with. The first song we heard was “Dazzling Blue,” followed by “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” He then stopped to do his welcoming comments, including a nice remark that there are few concert halls that make you feel humble just to be playing there, but that the Ryman was definitely one of them.

– After that, “So Beautiful or So What,” which is probably my favorite song from the new album. He had an eight-or-so piece band with him, and it was amazing how lush the arrangements were. But we’ll get back to that later.

– “Slip Sliding Away” reminded me of the Simon & Garfunkel performance I went to last year. During that concert, which was, logically, mainly Simon & Garfunkel songs, I wondered what it was like for him to get up and do a show like that. The songs they were doing were things that he had written forty to fifty years earlier, and he’s done a whole lot since then. Does he have the same affection for the older material? Would he rather be doing newer stuff?

That’s something you read about artists having to deal with — writing a song early on that becomes a hit, and so they have to play it years later to make people happy when they have sort of moved on from it and are getting tired of it.

Point being, that did not seem to be the case at all at this show. Paul seemed to genuinely love and enjoying playing these songs, be it his older classics or the ones from his newest album. And that was neat to see.

– Next up was an unreleased song about Viet Nam, which drove home that we were some of the younger people at the Ryman, albeit not the youngest by far. It says something, though, about the strength of a songwriter when you hope that they’ll play some of the songs that weren’t “good enough” to make an album.

– I’m not sure why, but “Mother and Child Reunion” gave me a bit of perspective on the timeline of his career — the first concert in Central Park was in 1981, he did another a decade later in 1991, and now I’m watching him in concert two more decades later in 2011. I was a bit young to remember the first one, but remember being excited watching the second one.

– There was a similar moment during “That Was Your Mother.” I remember driving to see a good friend in Lake Charles, Louisiana 15 years ago and making a special stop just so I could stand “on a corner in Lafayette,  state of Louisiana” like in the song that I’d loved for years already at that point. The song took on a different significance when I dated a woman from there for a while. And now, with Heather, having kids in my life for the first time, there are slightly different resonances — “You are the burden of my generation; I sure do love you, but let’s get that straight.” Never the same river twice. I’d wondered if I should enjoy the song the same way after the ex connection, but, you know, hearing it there, it’s just too fun to not.

– Also, one of the fringe benefits of being a successful musician, to me, would have to be that you get a free pass on your dancing being cool. You ever been to a concert and see a singer dancing in a way that, if they were just some man or woman in a club, you’d laugh at them, but because it’s their concert, they get to be cool? Totally apropos of nothing, I assure you.

– During “Hearts and Bones,” I made a note about the versatility of the band. Often you might have a horn player who plays different horns, or whatever — different instruments, but in the same family. It makes sense given the diversity of the instrumentals in his songs, but the band he had with him was crazy versatile — almost all of them at different points playing instruments that had nothing to do with each other. It was pretty impressive when you paid attention to it.

– Um, up next was a cover that I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t recognize. It had almost a Johnny Cash sort of country feel to it. After that was “Rewrite,” and then another song I didn’t know, and then “The Obvious Child,” which for me was the only point during the concert that I felt could have been better. I love the song and so probably had a very high standard, but the arrangement they did that night just seemed a little fast, lacking the range of the texture of the original. It’s a very high energy, driving, generally up-tempo song, but with moments that border on brooding, and those moments seemed to get lost in the energy of the live performance. Still awesome, though.

– After that, “The Only Living Boy In New York,” followed by “Love Is Eternal Sacred Light,” which to me was far better live than on the album for the same reason “Obvious Child” wasn’t — it was even more raucous and high-energy and fun. After that, “Questions for the Angels.”

– And then, “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes.” I was more than a little impressed, at the opening, that he and the band he had nailed the depth of the vocals. It was funny to see, though, that even his improv is scripted — they deviated from the studio version of the song, but very closely followed the almost-as-old Concert In Central Park live version, with the stretched out “tananananananana” riff.

– During “Gumboots,” a guy was drumming the strings inside a baby grand piano like a xylophone. ‘Cause they were just that awesome. This was the last song before the first encore, which you knew was coming, because there was no way a Paul Simon concert would end with “Gumboots.” Nothing wrong with it; it’s a good song, but just not a show-closer.

– That said, I assumed the first song of the encore really would be the end — Paul Simon, alone with his guitar, singing “Sounds of Silence” on a barely-lit stage. Powerful.

– The next song could have ended it, too — “Kodachrome.” Its status as a classic was reinforced for me that night when I realized I was listening to Paul Simon sing Kodachrome in an era in which they really have taken his Kodachrome away — the song has outlasted its inspiration.

– Up next was “Gone At Last,” followed by “Here Comes The Sun.” The latter made me wonder briefly what it would be like if somehow The Beatles had recorded music in the last couple of decades. Both The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel began their careers recording brilliant but relatively simple songs, and their work became more complex as they matured. Compare early S&G with “Graceland” or “So Beautiful …”, and there’s a world of difference. Really, the same is true of The Beatles from the beginning to end of their career, but it’s still interesting to think “what if…”

– “Late In The Evening,” as I wrote in my last post, was just a great, fun rock concert performance. It wrapped up the first encore, which was followed by a second, starting with “Still Crazy After All These Years.” Don Everly came out and joined Simon for “Bye Bye Love” and then Jerry Douglas joined him for “The Boxer.”

– The show concluded for real with an awesome performance of “The Boy In The Bubble,” which made me happy with a cool space video playing in the background. Not that it wouldn’t have made me happy otherwise; it’s another favorite. I love how it still rings true years later — twenty years after it was written, it still makes lasers in the jungle sound like miracle and wonder.

So baby don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry.

There Goes Ryman Simon


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I reserve the right to post a more detailed review later, but this was the thought going through my head during Thursday night’s Paul Simon concert at the Ryman auditorium in Nashville:

Whatever I do next, I want to love it in the way that Paul Simon appears to love music.

In fact, forget limiting that to career. I want to love Heather the way Paul Simon appears to love music. I want to love the boys that way. My church. Improv. Everything I care about.

I read an article 20 years ago about the 1991 concert in Central Park arguing that Paul Simon is much more a studio musician than a concert musician — that he’s very much a deliberate perfectionist who focuses on getting things “just so” on the recording. Live shows, then, are just an impossible attempt to recapture what was done perfectly in the studio.

And I would agree with that assessment of his studio work. If I had any criticism of his most recent album, “So Beautiful Or So What,” it’s that at times it’s seems too meticulous, too deliberate, too intentional, too perfect; that at times the combined artistry and craftmanship seem to have lost a very little of the feeling.

But I was aware of that perception of his concerts — as well as a perception that he can be a bit dour, dating back to old SNL appearances and the “You Can Call Me Al” video — when I saw him solo for the first time at the Ryman.

I was surprised at how much fun it was.

I guess maybe I was picturing music appreciators sitting respectfully in a performance venue while a respected artist shared classics of the medium.

Late in the evening, Paul Simon played “Late In The Evening,” and it captured the mood perfectly.

When I come back to the room, everybody just seemed to move
And I turned my amp up loud and I began to play

It was late in the evening, and I blew that room away

It was like he was that kid again, with his funky electric guitar, having fun rocking for a crowd that was eating it up.

We were having fun. He was having fun.

“Love Is Eternal Sacred Light,” from the last album captured the dichotomy for me. It’s perfect on the album. It’s raucous live. Both are great. They’re just different.

And that’s how Paul Simon seems to love music.

He loves it devotedly.

He loves it as a studio musician who pours himself into it, studies it, wants to understand it, wants to do it right, wants to be dedicated and meticulous and deliberate. He invests, and works, hard.

But he also loves it passionately.

When he was on stage Thursday night, he looked like there was nowhere he would rather be. He looked like he couldn’t be having more fun that night than he was having on that stage playing those songs.

And that’s what I want — I want a job that I can love in a way that engages me and I’m absolutely dedicated to doing and doing well, but that I enjoy. I want to be to Heather and the boys someone who loves them devotedly and works hard for what’s best for them, but who also can’t imagine anything more fun than being with them.

Devotion and passion. I don’t think that’s too much to strive for.

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