Paul Simon in Ramat Gan 311.
(photo credit: Yossi Tzevker)
It didn’t take long on Thursday night for whatever tension there was to be broken. Right after the night’s first song, a rocking version of Graceland’s “The Boy in the Bubble” Paul Simon stood up as tall as he could at the microphone in front of the capacity crowd at Ramat Gan Stadium and clearly called out “Shalom friends.”
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With that simple statement, the audience received what it had been denied only a few weeks before at the Bob Dylan show at the same venue. While the two performers are nearly the same age, and both are seminal figures from the 1960s rock revolution who have managed to stay vital into the twilights of their careers, the similarities between the two ended with their performances. Dylan was like a dark-side Sudoku, perplexing and demanding interpretation and patience in order to appreciate; Simon was like a completed crossword puzzle – all the pieces fit together making perfect sense from the outset.
Perhaps it has something to do with his personality - if anyone could
still be described as having a boyish demeanor at 69, it’s Simon. Over
the course of more than two hours, he and his stellar eight-piece band
playfully traveled across decades of highlights from his career,
including forays into zydeco (a sizzling “That Was Your Mother,”),
African-heavy rhythms (“The Obvious Child”) and jazzy staples (“Still
Crazy After All These Years,” “Late in the Evening”).
While Simon was in excellent form, both vocally and on guitar, it was
the band’s versatility and musicianship that really made the show – with
members Mark Stewart deftly switching between guitar, sax and various
wind instruments, Tony Cedras squeezing the accordion and adding
percussive textures and long-time accompanists guitarist Vincent Nguini
and bassist Bakithi Khumalo repeatedly dazzling with their lightning
runs and fills.
The energy lagged in places, especially the handful of songs from Simon’s latest album So Beautiful or So What
and on a somewhat laconic version of the oldie “Mystery Train,” but
they were outweighed when Simon transformed the stadium into an intimate
room with transcendent acoustic version of “Sounds of Silence” and
George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.” The former song’s observations
about “people talking without speaking” and “people hearing without
listening” rings as true today as when it was written more than 40 years
Before “The Boxer,” the final entry of a satisfying three-song second
encore that included “Still Crazy” and “You Can Call me All,” Simon
addressed the crowd again. Explaining that he wasn’t prone to giving
prayers he then went on anyway to wish the country and its residents
“Shalom Aleichem” and “Saalam Aleikhem.” Perhaps it wasn’t as poignant
as Leonard Cohen giving the Priestly Blessing at his 2009 show, but it
was a fitting end to a show that rivaled Cohen’s for both emotional
vulnerability and musical quality.
“Hear my words that I might teach you, Take my arms that I might reach
you,” implored Simon during “Sounds of Silence,” reciting the lyrics are
part of the lexicon of anyone who came of age in the post-Viet Nam era.
On Thursday night, the multi-generational crowd at the Stadium lovingly
and gratefully accepted that embrace.