Whenever a veteran musical artist takes to the road for a farewell tour, it’s a time for reflection. That seems even more likely when the artist is Paul Simon—one of music’s most thoughtful and reflective songwriters—who just wrapped up his “Homeward Bound” farewell tour in New York this past weekend.
So sure, I was expecting Simon to share some memories of his six-decade career when I attended his next to the last show at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 21. And indeed Simon (who turns 77 next month) did talk a little bit about how he first started playing the guitar and writing songs while still a teen in Queens, about his time spent in England in the early 1960s, and about the inspirations he found working with fellow musicians over the years. And near the end of the evening, visuals of old ticket stubs, concert posters, album covers and the like helped to sum up his career.
But mostly, he and his outstanding band (which included on many songs the New York-based yMusic ensemble, heard the last couple of summers here at the Sarasota Music Festival) just played the carefully hand-picked tunes Simon wanted his audience of fans to hear. That set list didn’t seem to vary from venue to venue (he kicked off the tour in Vancouver last May), but it sure gave his listeners a chance to appreciate once more the depth and range of his musical abilities, covering work in the strains of zydeco, reggae, African rhythms and more.
The packed Madison Square Garden house heard him start off with the wistful “America” and end (nearly) with “American Tune.” In between there were rousing stand-up-and-dance numbers, from “The Boy in the Bubble” to “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” (where Simon’s wife, fellow songwriter Edie Brickell, appeared briefly to help out with some whistling) to the super popular “You Can Call Me Al,” to quieter numbers like “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War,” “Questions for the Angels” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” which was a hit for the late Aretha Franklin as well as for Simon & Garfunkel (and no, Artie did not make a special appearance during the concert).
Some of those pieces (the Magritte song, “Questions for the Angels,” along with “Can’t Run But” and others) appear on Simon’s new album release, In the Blue Light—his 14th solo recording, where he has refashioned them a bit from his original recordings. Will it be his last? One surely hopes not.
In the meantime, Simon’s encores for the evening, which included “Late in the Evening,” “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Graceland,” “Homeward Bound,” “Kodachrome,” “The Boxer,” and the very final one –“The Sound of Silence,” of course—were a demonstration of his long-enduring talent, and a parting gift for the concert attendees.