"Hello, friends!" shouted Paul Simon as he walked on to the stage at London's Hammersmith Apollo, and he was greeted conversely like someone who had stepped out of the room just a minute ago, and like a blood relative who had been out of contact for 40 years. In Simon's case, years spent recording are directly proportional to the amount of goodwill from his audience and even the postponing of this gig due to a sore throat did not dampen the overwhelming affection for him.
Kicking off with the mellifluent marimba tones of "Crazy Love Vol. II" from his 1986 album, Graceland, Simon elicited the misty-eyed response that his music is famous for. But the jocular turns of each member of his multi-dextrous eight-man band made struck an optimistic rather than self-indulgent note.
Simon's back-up was a show in itself, with musicians switching competently and constantly between instruments, genre and register. From rock guitar to mandolin for numbers like "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover", piccolo to sax for "Gumboots", snare drum to washboard in an energetic rendition of "That Was Your Mother", and judiciously hammering a variety of inscrutable-looking gourds throughout.
Their flitting was a synecdoche for the versatility and variety of Simon and his back-catalogue, and their marathon two-hour set spanned the entirety of his illustrious career, from a solo acoustic rendering of "Sound of Silence" (the tone of which switches dramatically when removed from duet format) to numbers from latest album, "So Beautiful or So What".
Simon knows his demographic, and this was no sales-boosting exercise; the new album was plugged not as the focus but as part of a timeless whole. Some may sneer at the reliance on old favourites but it would be fatuous to ignore them; they are what make Simon great. Hence, the latter part of the show, including the two encores, was dedicated to roof-raisers and crowd-pleasers like a Fendered-up "The Boy in the Bubble" (blared out in front of a backdrop emblazoned with Graceland's iconic traveller album sleeve) and a longed-for finale of "You Can Call Me Al".
Despite the roster of adored tunes, Simon himself was reserved, reticent even, shaking some hands but speaking little. He threw himself into the numbers but not into the crowd – the only nod to popularism was a reprise of the reverse slap bass segment in "Al". Which was more than enough to send everybody in the audience home not only satisfied but jubilant too.Reuse content