Fridge over troubled water: Together at last. Yesterday Simon and Garfunkel, long ago divorced, completed a whole month of concerts in New York. Same old friends, same old problem. Giles Smith reports

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And so, after another decade of silence and strained relations, another reunion by Simon and Garfunkel. It would be easy to write up the string of New York shows that ended last night as a reconciliation at last. Except the duo barely exchanged a look all evening.

When the curtain rose, Art Garfunkel glided smoothly forward, his hands clasped in front of him like a contented priest. Paul Simon, dwarfed and awkward behind the chunky body of his acoustic guitar, was already playing the familiar jangle of strings that opens 'The Boxer'. Six thousand people, teary-eyed with nostalgia, rose from their seats to greet them.

Both 52 now, they could still manage the sweet, vocal blend they patented in the Sixties, though Garfunkel's sugary tenor carries a slight rasp, the imprint of smoking and overuse, and its vibrato is shot. But even as the first number took off, the pair were wrestling for possession.

Simon's guitar was trying to drive the song at speed, while Garfunkel's singing, luxuriously drawn out and behind the beat, was trying to drag it back again. And so it went on, through 'America' and 'Scarborough Fair' and 'Sounds of Silence' - all the strain between them evidenced in the delivery of the songs.

But while Simon's body language expressed visible unease, Garfunkel hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans and played the charmer. During 'Homeward Bound' he changed the line 'All my words come back to me' to 'All his words come back to me', jerking a thumb at Simon and raising a warm laugh from the stalls. He did a daring gag between songs about how it was actually he who wrote 'Mrs Robinson', when, of course, he wrote nothing at all. During 'Feelin' Groovy', he juggled with three orange balls. And, for the coup de grce, he came on for the final bow holding his two-and-half-year-old son, James, who was fancy-dressed for Hallowe'en.

And we still haven't covered the moment when he completely stole the show.

Though clearly bound by the loyalties attaching to a childhood friendship, neither Simon nor Garfunkel has ever really gone out of his way to cover up the fact that they annoy the hell out of each other. When, this summer, the pair announced a string of 21 renunion performances at the Paramount Theatre in Madison Square Garden, some people thought back to the circumstances of their split in 1970 and abortive reunion attempt in 1981, and quietly wondered whether they would make it to double figures.

They got through, though - 21 nights of sell-out houses, with best seats at dollars 100, Miss Saigon-style. It was a gigantic event. Celebrities stocked the front rows: Robin Williams, James Taylor, Sean Penn. Steve Martin came out during the opening show and mimed getting stoned during 'Feelin' Groovy'.

And more specifically, it was a gigantic New York event. This is where Simon and Garfunkel grew up. Time and again the city seeps into the songs. To sing at the Paramount about 'the whores on Seventh Avenue' is to sing about whores a couple of blocks away. 'The New Jersey Turnpike', 'the 59th Street Bridge', 'New York winters': at the concert on Sunday, each reference ignited another pocket of rowdy parochialism in the audience.

When Paul Simon first met Arthur Garfunkel, they were both 10 years old, both growing up in middle-class families in Queens and both appearing in the school production of Alice in Wonderland. A teacher cast Simon as the White Rabbit and Garfunkel as the Cheshire Cat. In some respects, they have played these roles ever since.

Simon was, and remains, nervy, solemn, hard to please. Musicians who have worked with him attest to his meticulousness, his obsessiveness, his temper. Garfunkel, on the other hand, was always the tall and laid-back one, who sang like an angel but maintained a charismatic, rangy grin.

Simon did all the writing and the playing and the worrying, for which his reward has been huge wealth, but not a lot more. All Garfunkel had to do, it seemed, was walk on and sing and immediately he was basking in the affection of the audience. If the tensions between them have one source, it lies here.

Simon could not prevent himself from believing that Garfunkel was getting credit where credit wasn't due. After they recorded the soundtrack for The Graduate, Garfunkel started to hanker after a career in film. As he grew more dilatory, Simon grew more obsessive. Work on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album is said to have cost them 800 hours in studio time. Garfunkel was frequently an absentee, off chasing film parts. Simon felt he was being held back. The pair had in effect split up before the album was released in 1970.

They spent the Seventies living in apartments on opposite sides of Central Park. But while Simon established himself as a solo star, Garfunkel's film career signally failed to take off. He appeared in two Mike Nichols movies and in Nicholas Roeg's Bad Timing. In 1976, he managed a platinum-selling solo album (Breakaway), but he could not follow it up, and in 1981 he asked Simon for a rematch.

Dates were agreed for a tour. Before it opened, there were plans for a reunion album. Simon set Garfunkel a strict deadline for the completion of his vocals. When Garfunkel abjectly failed to meet it, Simon completed the album himself.

Thus the reunion tour (which included a show on the Great Lawn of Central Park in front of 400,000, and earned the duo dollars 250,000 per night) took place amid bitter resentment, with Garfunkel painting Simon as the villain and Simon feeling aggrieved. They were not to contemplate this kind of thing again for more than a decade.

When Garfunkel left the stage on Sunday night, the 20th of the 21 shows, you could sense the tension going out of Simon's shoulders. We then got the Paul Simon portion of the show: all the hits from his solo years, lots of fabulous tunes immaculately delivered by top-rank musicians. But, even when the band cooked up a samba, there was nothing magnetic about Simon's stage presence. It's a baffling predicament - to be so amply gifted as a musician, and then to fail to make it click for want of something arbitrary and dumb like charisma.

And then, after Simon left, just when the show seemed to be over, a solitary spotlight picked out a tall figure, high on a podium. Art Garfunkel was back.

He was alone, his hands clasped in front of him, his head tilted moodily towards the ceiling. As he walked slowly to the microphone, a pianist off to the side playing the milky opening bars of 'Bridge over Troubled Water' The noise from the audience doubled and became a storm.

It is 23 years since this number was recorded - years in which it has taken on the status of a pop hymn, with Garfunkel as the solo chorister. Simon has frequently and openly spoken of the frustration he has been caused by the way that, in his greatest moment as a songwriter, the adulation diverts to Garfunkel. Here, Garfunkel's delivery lacked clarity and breath. But he could still hold something in reserve for the emotive final verse, building to hit that sustained end-note, tailing off in the thunder of the audience's approval.

Meanwhile, somewhere out of sight and momentarily forgotten, sat Paul Simon, reflecting perhaps on his former partner's uncanny knack for stealing the show. Afterwards, Simon and Garfunkel left the theatre by separate exits, in separate limos.

(Photographs omitted)

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