Paul Simon at First Avenue

edited May 2011 in Live Music
Last night saw yet another trip to First Avenue for me, but this time it was a bit of a bigger deal than usual. My wife and I were there to see two time Rock 'n Roll Hall of Famer Paul Simon. Seeing someone like that in a venue like First Ave (named one of the top ten rock venues of all time by Gibson Guitars) is something that could not be passed up even though I'm a relative novice when it comes to Simon's solo work. The show was unusual even before it started in that the ticket limit was set at two, all tickets were will call only, and they were nontransferable. Clearly they wanted to avoid scalpers, but Ellen saw someone offering the tickets for sale on craigslist for $250 a pop. The guy claimed he'd meet the buyers at First Ave and get them in, but based on how things were set up I somehow doubt he was allowed to do that.

Anyway, some other interesting observations from before the show: 1) Recently I've started to feel old when I go to First Ave, but not last night. We were clearly on the lower side of the curve. This ended up being a good thing because even though we were in the later half of people to get in, the oldsters were avoiding the floor in front of the stage so we ended up center stage about 30 feet back from Simon's microphone; 2) I've never seen First Ave completely full more than a half hour before the show starts. There wasn't an opener though so no one wanted to be even a few minutes late; and 3) I've never seen that many instruments onstage at one time. There were so many that the First Ave projection screen that is usually down and used to announce the show start and end by being raised/lowered had to be up the whole time. There wasn't room for it be lowered. I counted at least 14 guitars onstage and there ended up being several more brought in from offstage during the show (I'll get into more of the instrumentation in a minute). If there had been an opener it would have taken well more than an hour just to reset the stage.

The show itself started about 15 minutes late, but it was freakin' phenomenal and went on for 2 solid hours. Paul Simon may be turning 70 in October but he still has the voice and the fingers for the guitar. Only played two Simon and Garfunkel songs ("Last Living Boy in New York" and "Sound of Silence", the later solo acoustic and the crowd was so in awe people weren't even singing along), but played all the solo songs I know apart from "You Can Call Me Al" which he is apparently not playing on this tour, and even covered The Beatles with "Here Comes the Sun." The truly amazing thing, though, was the band. They were tight and had riddum. A truly rare combination. It was an eight piece: lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, 3 multi instrumentalists, and 2 percussionists. I say 3 multi instrumentalists, but I think everyone other than the rhythm guitarist played at least one instrument that was completely different from their main instrument. A non exhaustive list of the instruments used apart from all the guitars (one song actually featured 5 acoustic guitars): grand piano, at least four keyboards (I didn't have a good view of one of the multi instrumentalists so he could have had more), two drum kits (one primarily made up of toms and the like), trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, soprano sax, tin whistle, two different flutes, two different accordions, uke, and more african and other hand held percussion instruments than I could keep track of. It was truly amazing watching this group of guys get into a serious groove and go to town on all these instruments. Here's a lousy cell phone picture of the band:


And an even worse close up of Paul Simon:


All I can say is, if you have a chance to catch this it. And if you have a chance to see one of the small club shows? Even better.

Paul Simon gets an A+.

ETA setlist:

Boy in the Bubble/ Dazzling Blue/ 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover/ So Beautiful or So What/ Vietnam (Jimmy Cliff) > Mother and Child Reunion/ That Was Your Mother/ Hearts and Bones > Mystery Train (Elvis Presley)/ Slip Slidin Away/ Rewrite/ Peace Like a River/ The Obvious Child/ The Only Living Boy in New York/ Getting Ready for Christmas Day/ Love Is Eternal Sacred Light/ Father & Daughter/ Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes/ Gumboots ENCORE The Sounds of Silence (solo acoustic)/ Kodachrome > Gone at Last/ Here Comes the Sun / Late in the Evening ENCORE 2 Still Crazy After All of These Years



  • edited September 2011
    Nice review!
    Now, Paul Simon? is someone who isn't cringe-worthy still playing in public after all these years.

    (Guess I didn't see this in May when you first posted it. The comments in the thread about R.E.M. breaking up and whether bands should just fade away made me reply)
  • Great review Craig - I'd love to see him again - I first (only) saw him play 40 years ago in a small folk club. Way back then S and G were one of my all time favourites. I bought all their LPs at the time, played Bookends so much it almost wore out. I got BOTW the day it came out - even skipped a session at college to do so. Thanks for the review,
  • Thanks guys! Was pretty surprised to see this bubble back up!

  • Wow, they're even coming to KC.
    :goes away, muttering about $250 tickets:
  • Similar pricing in Detroit. Milwaukee is closest for me, pricing not too bad. Moline is downright ticket 80 bucks!
  • So Beautiful or So What is the most enjoyable album he's released in a very long time, I thought. At least it is if you don't mind a lot of explicit spirituality mixed into your music.
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