Back in the summer of 1986, when Graceland fever was at its height, my household – like many others I should think – was caught up in the Paul Simon hysteria. I remember one particular weekend when a tape of Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert In Central Park was playing for periods of 12 hours at a time. It should have been enough to turn my ten year old self off the compact singer-songwriter’s oeuvre for life, but the songs were just so good that I instead came to see Simon for the genius he is.
Tonight’s show in a rain-soaked marquee in Cork underlines what an incredible body of work Simon has released over the last 50 years. From the back of the vast hall Simon was just a small speck on the stage, but then from the front row he would have been rather titchy anyway. While he is short of stature, he is not short of brilliant songs. Despite leaving out classics like ‘The Boxer’ and the track ‘Graceland’ itself, the set was peppered with some of the greatest songs rock and roll has produced. The selections from Simon’s current album are excellent; ‘The Afterlife’ being a great example of his gift for writing a thoughtful, reflective lyric. Then just as you’re admiring the latest work of this almost septuagenarian songwriter, he hits you with – BAM! – ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ or – WALLOP! – ‘Mother & Child Reunion’ or – COR! – ‘Hearts & Bones’ (which actually is the absolute peak of tonight’s set).
Simon performed for two hours but could have played for three or four such is the quality and depth of his back catalogue. As yet another familiar classic is proffered to the delighted crowd, the effect is quite dizzying. The backing band of course comprises the hottest session musicians in the world, but they’re backing a man who is as important and as brilliant as McCartney or Wilson and who could teach Bob Dylan a thing or two about entertaining a 21st century crowd. And that is no small achievement.