You can call him great

Paul Simon's Ramat Gan concert was like a completed crossword puzzle – all the pieces fit together making perfect sense from the outset.

Paul Simon concert 311 (photo credit: Yossi Tzevker)
Paul Simon concert 311
(photo credit: Yossi Tzevker)
It didn’t take long on Thursday night for whatever tension there was to be broken. Right after the 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 National Stadium in Ramat Gan and called out “Shalom, friends.”
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 men 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” ring as true today as when it was written more than 40 years ago.
Before “The Boxer,” the final entry of a satisfying three-song second encore that included “Still Crazy” and “You Can Call Me Al,” Simon addressed the crowd again. Explaining that he wasn’t prone to saying prayers, he went on to wish the country and its people “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 that are part of the lexicon of anyone who came of age in the post-Vietnam War era.
On Thursday night, the multigenerational crowd at the stadium lovingly and gratefully accepted that embrace.