Thursday, April 24, 2008

"PAUL SIMON: American Tunes" at BAM

The Brooklyn Academy of Music presented "Paul Simon: American Tunes," part-tribute concert, part-Paul Simon concert, and mostly an opportunity to hear many of the standards from the Paul Simon solo catalog from a different musical perspective. Simon opened the show with the Roche Sisters and his superb band, with "American Tune" which never sounded so relevant as it does today. When that song was first released on "There Goes Rhymin'Simon", in the era of Watergate and the dismay at the apparent closing of the Age of Aquarius and AntiWar- liberation movements, we thought that we had "issues" as a nation when we realized that our politicans were corrupt and malfeasant in their disruption of the political process, and that the Viet Nam war had lead the U.S. down a dark corridor. Well, who knew then that "we hadn't seen anything yet". This was followed later by "Me and Julio" which was warmly received.

Simon left the stage for a while, as the Roche Sisters, provided lovely interpretations of Cecelia and other tunes. One tune, "Another Galaxy" concluded withthe comment how great it was to be "In Brooklyn--Another Galaxy". "That's right!" someone shouted. Next,

Amos Lee performed "Peace Like a River" from the first post-S&G Simon solo album. Amos Lee, a Philadelphia-born musician has played with Bob Dylan and others. His intense, blues-tinged folk, gave a deep undercurrent of sad truths told joyfully. Grizzly Bear, a Brooklyn-band, took the stage, complex arrangements from a spare 4 piece group.

Olu Dara, combining jazz, blues, Afro-caribbean rhythms, performed "50 Ways to Lose Your Lover" and other tunes. Dara made a peculiar joke to the audience not to litter since his band mates earned money on the side cleaning up after the show. This felt a little awkward, one of a few attempts that Olu Dara made at connecting with his large audience, but this sort of fell flat. At any rate, I guess it seemed like patter for a smaller club and a different audience.

That said, the show was interesting since it attracted a diverse audience with a core of long time Simon fans but it was not strictly a Paul Simon-retrospective performance. In fact, after the 3rd or 4th performances without Simon, someone yelled out "Where's Paul ?" Although all of the musicians appear well established, the show seemed to highlight the irony that rock music, essentially an American and avant garde form, is subject to certain cultural and aesthetic assumptions, apparently not the least of which is based on age.Rock music rolls on. Those Simon and S&G recordings are only a snapshot. The music, like the musician, is ever changing, subject to new interpretations and musical passions. After the first couple of sets, and one realized that Paul would not be on stage all evening, it was great to just sit back and let all of the music happen all around you, hear familiar Simon tunes done by different voices and different, though essentially faithful to the original, arrangements. The fact that new generations of musicians are equally in love with the Simon songbook was just such a powerful statement on the originality and relentless creativity of this great artist.

Josh Groban, a fabulous singer with an incredibly strong and clear voice, brought new depth and range to "Bridge Over Troubled Water". Remarkable too, Gillian Welch and partner David Rawlings, performing "Duncan" with Simon. Stylistically, Welch is an intense and hard to categorize fusion of bluegrass, folk, country and blues.

Simon returned with his band and tore through "Train in the Distance, " "How Can You Live in the Northeast", "Late in the Evening" and more. Mark Stewart, Simon's musical director, of Polyphonic Lounge and Bang on a Can Festival, an remarkable multi-instrumentalist, stands out in Simon's already tight and very high powered band.

There were so many songs it was hard to keep track, but it was a night for, by, and about Paul Simon. It was an amazing amazing show all around.

Paul Simon: American Tunes extends through April 27 at BAM's beautiful Howard Gilman Opera House.

5 comments:

  1. It was a great concert, though I disliked Groban and thought that Olu Dara was fantastic. No accounting for taste

    ReplyDelete
  2. i wish more people had thought outside the box like grizzly bear. I find their interpretations the most inspiring and exciting.

    Gilliam Welch was lovely as well

    josh groban/olu dara/amos lee were all a bit too vanilla latte starbucks for me

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love Josh! How could anyone NOT love his music?!? He does such a beautiful rendition of "America" and I cannot wait to hear him and one of his childhood inspirations (that's Paul Simon, in case you didn't know) sing Bridge Over Troubled Water Sunday night. Mmmmmmm....I could go for a vanilla latte starbucks right now!

    ReplyDelete
  4. The song is called "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," not Fifty Ways to Lose your Lover.

    Last week's "Under African Skies" was equally, if not more, exciting than this week's American songbook concert.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes, 50 ways to leave your lover..it was a late post-concert post....thanks for the correction

    ReplyDelete

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