Paul Simon delivered a fantastic, career-spanning performance at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys on Sunday, June 25, proving he’s still crazy good after all these years.
Simon is a cornerstone of American musical history and his songs have been a ubiquitous part of our culture since the 1960s. He’s in the pantheon of songwriters, with icons such as Dylan and Cohen, who brought poetry to popular music and whose stories have been passed down through generations almost like modern American folktales. At this point, a Paul Simon concert is more of a cultural event than anything, with Sunday night being a dramatic re-telling of his life in song in front of 7,000 people.
Simon kicked off with the desert thump of “Boy In The Bubble” from his landmark smash album “Graceland,” as the song reverberated into the evening’s sunset and prompted people to their feet. He kept the pedal to the metal on the sayanora shuffle “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” before cooling things off for a bit with the shimmering acoustic tones of “Dazzling Blue” from 2012’s offering “So Beautiful or So What.”
“Let’s see, I got nothing to say, not really,” Simon said as he took a moment to acknowledge the crowd, sounding like someone who had just been interrupted reading a novel in a coffee shop.
“I like it when you dance. Get up when the spirit moves you. Let’s kick it off,” he said before launching into the ramshackle rhythm of “That Was Your Mother.”
Amazingly, “kicking it off” was just of taste of the musical menu. When you think Paul Simon, quiet acoustic folktales certainly come to mind. But Simon has tapped into a lot of different rhythms over the course of his musical life and he was happy to keep the crowd moving to them, from the reggae-tinged “Mother and Child Reunion” to the street-corner singalong “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” to the percussive rattle of “Obvious Child.”
Simon’s crack nine-person band had the dexterous task of touching upon all the aspects of the songwriter’s storied career, which has ranged from hushed folk to African pop. They performed with jubilant aplomb and added new life to Simon’s catalog.
The band did a marvelous job of holding down the musical side of things, which allowed Simon to focus what he does best: tell his stories. The singer’s delicate voice still has an amazing amount of clarity and, for the most part, it is the same as it was from the first Simon and Garfunkel album, if not slightly more quiet. He was able to hit the notes to create the whimsical optimism of “America” and his preserved voice only added to the timelessness of the songs.
Simon is a natural storyteller and couldn’t resist adding little tidbits about inspiration for songs, hinting that the hushed syncopation of “Spirit Voices” was brought about from the psychedelic jungle potion ayahuasca and noting “The Cool, Cool River” was from when he spent “three days fighting the pygmies and three weeks fighting the gorillas.”
At one point, Simon told the adoring crowd that he doesn’t really take requests. Well, he doesn’t have to because his 2-hour set was full of hits from his legendary career and if you didn’t hear at least 10 Paul Simon songs you wanted to hear, then you couldn’t have been at the show.
The tail end of the concert was particularly loaded with iconic offerings, starting with the the epic one-two punch of “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al” to end the set. After a standing ovation, Simon and his band returned to cap off the night with a loaded encore that included the seminal classics “Graceland,” “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “The Boxer.”
Paul Simon already has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest storytellers in American music. But Sunday night showed that Simon is still interested in telling his own story. Judging by the throngs of people who streamed out his show, America is still eagerly listening.
- Paul Simon
June 25, 2017, Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys
- The Boy in the Bubble
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
That Was Your Mother
My Little Town
Mother and Child Reunion
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
The Obvious Chile
Stranger to Stranger
El Condor Pasa (instrumental)
The Cool, Cool River
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
You Can Call Me Al
Still Crazy After All These Years
Questions for the Angels
Late in the Evening
The Sound of Silence