Portland gave Paul Simon a well-deserved send-off on Saturday as the legendary musician packed the Moda Center with fans and admirers young and older for his Homeward Bound Farewell Tour.
Considering his last trip through town, just a few years ago, stopped at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, quite small in comparison to the large arena, it was nothing short of grandiose with a touch of sentiment, even if it might not be a last farewell. So, pay attention Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, and Noah and the Whale along with the rest of today’s we all sound the same folk rock bands. This is how it’s done.
Simon played a rather eclectic set of hits, deep album cuts and a few perhaps some had not heard before (at least according to him) spanning a career that began in the 1960s. The nearly two hour and 45 minute set featured 26 songs touching most of his 13 studio albums with big draws from his smash records Graceland and The Rhythm Of The Saints and of course a few of those collaborations with Art Garfunkel.
Simon began the evening with “America” then the smooth melodies of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” after which he talked about his decision to end touring but not necessarily call it a career and, well, not even sure he’s going to stop live performances altogether, either.
“This thing about the final, yeah I’m lying about that,” he said to applause and laughter. “I’m just trying to get the ticket prices up. It worked!”
In all seriousness, Simon said he is thinking about it but has no intention to stop writing and recording though slowing down or ending touring allows him to look forward to not knowing what to do. He’s been at this since the 1950s, you know, as he first started writing around the age of 15.
However, he sure seemed like a man still having fun – he had lots of it – and at 76 years old Simon hardly looked, acted, sang or played like someone in the twilight of their career needing to shut it down. No, Paul Simon isn’t hard rock with blistering chords and fast paced melodies, actually he gave the reigns to his 14 piece band that backed him on the higher tempo songs like the bass heavy “The Boy in the Bubble” and the full sounds of “The Obvious Child.” He even whistled without fail on “Rewrite” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”
It sure was something to hear all those easy melody, folksy songs come to life on the live stage. Age eventually catches up to all of us unfortunately, but so far Simon is way out ahead. He danced a little on the up-tempo “That Was Your Mother” and had way too much spirit playing “Wristband.” The main set closed with his 80s smash hit “You Can Call Me Al” which bled from “Diamonds and the Soles of Her Shows” and Simon finished the evening with two encores then a final set with just him and the acoustic guitar. Simon spent most of the evening with guitar in hand, constantly changing between acoustic and electric.
Of course, he played the famous “Mrs. Robinson” featuring a slick southern guitar tone which brought a thunderous applause and standing ovation as he closed it out. The phenomenal “The Boxer” ended the second encore and he capped off the show with “The Sounds of Silence.”
The only time it felt like a goodbye was the start of the second encore when Simon played “Homeward Bound” off the Simon and Garfunkel album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme an apt name for the tour, no less. It was a touching self-tribute to his legendary career and maybe it was the vocals, the words or the video backdrop showcasing a career in photos, concert tickets and handbills or perhaps all three, but reality set in, Paul Simon was indeed homeward bound.
Overall, the evening moved along efficiently, even the encore breaks were quick. Simon took a few moments to relate some stories or explain a bit of history like the song “Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War” off the 1983 album Hearts And Bones which he said was the most strangest title in his music catalogue. He got the name from looking through a book of photographs while Joan Baez took a phone call during a quick meeting they held just prior to playing a festival together. He also asked for song requests and quickly tempered the crowd by saying “I don’t do requests.”
Simon forgot some lyrics to “Cool, Cool, River” – which featured as an intro the opening harmony of the Spanish infused “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” – but he played it off beautifully and the ending jam certainly made up for it. However, he “punished” himself by playing about a minute of the Simon and Garfunkel song “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” because he hates it so much.
Anyone who enjoys music probably has a story that first endeared them to a particular artist or at least put them on their personal radar. You can’t not know about Paul Simon and even though his career spans longer than I have been alive I certainly do recall the catchy “You Can Call Me Al” with that clever video featuring Chevy Chase. But something far emotional first connected me to Mr. Simon and something I will never forget.
Back when Saturday Night Live was relevant at least for me I tuned in to watch the show’s first broadcast after 9/11. A lot of historical impact continued to mark the landscape of America following those attacks on the World Trade Center which certainly included the broadcast of SNL with studios in the epicenter of that fateful day. I had no idea what to expect.
Simon played “The Boxer” and the tears flowed. To this day, thinking about his performance gets me a bit misty eyed. I am sure I had heard that most poignant song sometime in the past but nothing close ever came to hearing it again for the first time. It was a stunning performance to say the least and as I heard “The Boxer” played for the first time live and likely the last I could only sit and watch, trying to absorb this song that forever connects me to the events of that day.
So many of Simon’s songs whisk me back to an era I’ll never know and it’s these songs that provide me the lens to see what the 60s and 70s encompassed. How many music legends have come and gone, and whether or not this is indeed farewell, Paul Simon still goes on.
Paul Simon Setlist at Moda Center in Portland, OR
- 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
- The Boy in the Bubble
- Dazzling Blue
- That Was Your Mother
- Mother and Child Reunion
- Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
- Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War
- Can’t Run But
- Spirit Voices
- The Obvious Child
- The Cool, Cool River
- The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
- Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
- You Can Call Me Al
- Still Crazy After All These Years
- Homeward Bound
- The Boxer
- Late in the Evening
- Questions for the Angels
- The Sound of Silence