It’s incredible to think that Paul Simon is 75, and still touring. It’s not so much the age, of course: for those who know the first thing about Simon, it seems obvious that he has too much love for the music to ever stop. It’s more that Wednesday Morning, 3am (Simon & Garfunkel’s debut) was released the same year as The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night. And yet here he is, in front of an audience heavy with people in their 20s, and he’s still undeniably world class.
The depth, unsurprisingly, is astonishing. Having opted for no support and an 8pm start time, Simon arrives relatively unheralded, and fires into a mellow opening. The feel of the set is almost tepid in its wistful melody: the travel-inspired folk of ‘Mother and Child Reunion’ and ‘Spirit Voices’ offer quirky rhythms and thoughtful verses delivered in Simon’s distinctive timbre. The more straightforward melodies demonstrate how fantastically engaging Simon’s voice is, all soul-bared simplicity on ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ and ‘The Obvious Child’.
For the opening hour, what stands out the most is how different Simon is to your average performer on a stage of this scale. There’s almost wilfully no attempt to purvey an image, as such. Instead, musicianship and songwriting are given centre-stage over aesthetics. Storytelling about hallucinogenic experiences in the Amazon rainforest is served up alongside minimalist backing; the band each given their chance to shine, but delicately and soothingly, bereft of showboating.
There’s never an absence of hits in a Paul Simon show, but they noticeably build as the night progresses, and despite the delicate way they’re performed, the set takes on a natural tempo rise as greater recognition and crowd engagement kicks in.
The band are on and off the stage as Simon gets a little more surreal in ‘Thriller’-inspired newbie ‘The Werewolf’ and closes off the main set with two sing-along big hitters in ‘You Can Call Me Al’ and ‘Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes’.
While some creep out as soon as Simon leaves the stage, there’s a lot more to come. His first return features loveable comic dad-rap in ‘Wristband’ slipping into the far more memorable ‘Graceland’ and the convincing refrain of ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’.
‘The Boxer’ slides into the next encore, as Simon enjoys a rapturous reception after each song and shout for more, before a one-track return for a harrowing, sublime rendition of ‘The Sound Of Silence’. This isn’t entirely unexpected: much the same setlist has appeared throughout Simon’s recent shows, encores and all, but it’s perfectly delivered, the product of half a century of experience, much of it in front of big crowds, and the composure and confidence that brings.
We’d be lying if we denied that by the time the fourth encore – and 29th track of the night – rolled around, the call of “wrap it up” from the back row wasn’t met with a certain amount of empathy in some corners. As the creep for the exits became a flood, however, Simon edged into a soaring rendition of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, and finally polished off the long farewell that had begun no less than nine songs earlier.
Too much of a good thing? He walked that line, but when there are so few dips in quality, who are we to argue.