An exhibition of good taste for the baby boomer generation
First Night: Simon and Garfunkel, MEN Arena, Manchester
Thursday 15 July 2004
As you'd expect, the greying baby boomer audience for Simon and Garfunkel's first UK show in 30 years is similar to that which regularly turns out for Bob Dylan's concerts, but with one difference: if the usher had tried to get a Dylan audience to join in a Mexican wave while they were waiting, he would have got pretty short shrift for his efforts, rather than cheerful acquiescence.
This crowd is here to have a good time, and they aren't short-changed by a show which proudly brandishes the meticulous good taste that marks the duet's recordings.
Perhaps mindful of their audience's possibly shaky memories, they take the stage in darkness while a potted video biography of their career plays to a vamp of the "America" riff; when the lights suddenly go up to reveal them - Arty in his trademark waistcoat, Pauly in red T-shirt and jacket - the crowd rises for the first of the night's many standing ovations.
Their first couple of songs, "Old Friends" and "Hazy Shade of Winter", seem to have been chosen to confront the age question that inevitably accompanies such reunions, with their references to "time, time, time, see what's become of me" and "how terribly strange to be 70". But having grasped that nettle, they slip smoothly into a seamless sequence of hits, starting with "I am a Rock", taken less urgently than once would have been the case, and boasting the night's only significant lyric change, Simon doubtless having decided that the line about a "silent shroud of snow" carried too much adolescent poetic baggage to be repeated as he approaches his terribly strange 70s.
"America" is just beautiful, as wistful and evocative as ever, and a medley of "At the Zoo" and "Baby Driver" allows the band to rock out a little before Garfunkel takes a solo vocal on "Cathy's Song". "It's very easy to sing when the songs are this good," he gushes, going on to explain that this tour represents the 50th anniversary of the duet's earliest collaboration.
Simon, no slouch with the wisecracks, adds that they started arguing not long after, so this tour also represents "the 48th anniversary of our arguments". It's a cute cue for their teenage hit (as Tom and Jerry), "Hey Schoolgirl", after which Simon apologises for the song's "oo-bop-a-lu-chi-bop" chorus. "They won't be putting up any plaques on railway stations to that," he notes.
Their youthful effort, Simon explains, was an attempt to emulate their heroes the Everly Brothers - who arrive on cue to a standing ovation, performing a breathtaking trio of hits, before Simon and Garfunkel rejoin them for "Bye Bye Love".
The rest of the show becomes something of a community singalong, with "Homeward Bound", "The Sound of Silence", "Mrs Robinson" and even "Bridge over Troubled Water" tackled with enthusiasm by the capacity crowd.
The only dip in spirits comes with the lacklustre "My Little Town", but there's compensation aplenty in songs such as a pristine "Scarborough Fair" and the duo's version of Simon's solo "Slip Slidin' Away".
"This is a song that was not recorded by Simon and Garfunkel," he observes, adding with quiet regret, "it should have been." It has now.
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