Paul Simon, Bloomsbury Theatre, London<img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/fourstar.gif" height="1" width="1"/><img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/fourstar.gif" height="10" width="47"/>

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The Independent Culture

Paul Simon's allegedly prickly personality is nowhere in evidence as he takes the stage for his most intimate London show since his pre-Simon and Garfunkel days in the folk clubs.

He raises his left hand, seemingly summoning a melody out of the air, and a beautiful a capella opening to "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" ensues.

In close harmony with his recently convened band, playing only their second show after their debut at New Orleans Jazz and Blues Festival, he is transported back to his earliest musical love, doo wop. Then, as the instruments chime in, the graceful connection with African township pop is made.

These effortless connections are a recurring theme of a show alighting on one of the most colourful and expressive songwriting legacies in pop history. It is there in abundance on "Outrageous", the first of four songs from the new Brian Eno-assisted Surprise album, a playful but incensed amalgam of slamming metal, the rhythm section's hip-hop beat gliding into a gorgeous, swooning melodic passage.

Three songs in and with the majestic "Slip Slidin' Away", the masterclass is in full effect. The melancholia and longing in the lyric seem almost superfluous as he and the band highlight the melody with wordless vocal harmonies.

There's a deliciously combative moment when he shuts off a heckler with a mock surly "Yeah, what would you know?". Then with "The Boxer" he delivers a knockout punch, ignoring the lone bawdy roar that greets the line about "the whores on 7th Avenue". Though there's no place tonight for "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "How Can You Live in the Northeast?" searches for a similar feeling of resolution, albeit in a fractured modern-day context. The accordion-assisted "The Boy in the Bubble" is such a thrilling collision of turmoil and wonder that it sounds urgently contemporary.

Any lingering image of Simon as a studied neurotic is washed away by the sheer exuberance of the harmonies on "Loves Me Like a Rock" and the easy celebration of carnal frolics on "Cecilia".

The final encore, "Wartime Prayers", proves a dreamy requiem and he shakes the hands of many who rush to the front of the stage. The outstretched palms were understandable because, as this performance underlined, Simon is simply one of the most eloquent and intelligent writers in pop history.

The concert will be broadcast on Radio 2 on Saturday 3 June

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