It’s not difficult to figure out the source of Paul Simon’s iconography. Simon and Garfunkel – “The Sound of Silence” – “Mrs. Robinson” – Bridge Over Troubled Water – Graceland – Multiple Grammy awards (Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award), Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…It would be easy to keep going. These are just a few of the building blocks of an American icon. Simon is an outright living legend, and not surprisingly he keeps on putting out brilliant music. Finishing up a U.S tour (and heading to Europe next) Simon is supporting the latest gem in his jewelry store of brilliant albums, So Beautiful, or So What, Simon decided to provide fans with an excellent surprise, by adding a number of relatively small club dates to his tour of larger venues. Seeing him at the also legendary 930 Club in downtown Washington D.C provided a great opportunity to see him up close, and the kind of intimacy that one shouldn’t have a right to expect from Paul Simon, as he can certainly play much larger venues and easily sell out multiple times. Knowing he left money on the table in order to play these smaller clubs just makes him even more of a musical hero.
According to Simon, for this tour, “I want to let the band be freer. I’m actually really looking forward to this tour. I’ll play a few songs by other people, maybe a couple of Simon and Garfunkel songs. And then late in the evening, who knows, I might pick up my acoustic guitar and sing whatever comes into my mind. That’s the fun of clubs, it’s looser. I can come at it all from a place that’s fresh.”
From Simon’s folk roots with Simon and Garfunkel throughout his brilliant solo career, he has rewritten the book on popular music as a master writer, musician and groundbreaking musical explorer. His forays into world music with African (Graceland) and Brazilian (The Rhythm Of The Saints) music were perfectly executed melding of his acoustic folk roots, with beats and rhythms from an entirely different universe. He opened many doors for world music into popular American music culture that might otherwise have remained closed.
The backing band Simon has assembled for this tour was absolutely spectacular. However, despite the raw power of his eight-piece backing band, Paul Simon doesn’t breathe fire when he sings; on the contrary, he ignites the embers of his songs with a slow burn. Historic tracks such as “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes,” and “Still Crazy After All These Years” are powerful songs, and Simon’s vocals exude the power without the blunt force of many singers today. Simon’s band displayed their many years of experience with perfect song execution, and everyone was given an opportunity to show off their talents at some point. The accordion player also played keyboard and several wind instruments, as everyone in the band seemed to possess multi-instrumentalist talents. The horn player played flute, other wind instruments and guitar. The lead guitarist played saxophone. And, did the drummer just stand up and start playing a washboard? And so on. Obviously the tightness and talent of a backing band makes a huge difference in the quality of a show, and this band was phenomenal. And, given the catalog to play that they were rewarded with, they did not take it for granted.
The concert was brilliant from the start; opening up with “Crazy Love, Vol. II,” Simon ran through several tracks from So Beautiful Or So What, including the title track, and also offered many classics, like personal favorite “Slip Slidin’ Away,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Kodachrome,” “Late In The Evening,” “Only Living Boy in New York,” and even a few covers, throwing in Chet Atkins (Wheels), and The Beatles (Here Comes The Sun), playing 26 songs in all.
Mother and Child Reunion followed “Vietnam,” a Jimmy Cliff cover, and as Simon noted, the Jamaican reggae grooves of which inspired the reggae sound of that particular song, and which helped ultimately lead to Simon’s excursions into world music. The title of “Mother and Child Reunion,” for those that did not know, takes its origin from “a chicken-and-egg dish called ‘Mother and Child Reunion’ that Simon saw on a Chinese restaurant’s menu.”
The crowd was a wide variety of young and old, and one dedicated fan wore a T-shirt and he had drawn a Venn diagram, two circles that overlapped, in black magic marker on the front of the shirt. One circle said “You’re Breakin’ My Heart,” and the other said “You’re Shakin’ My Confidence” and in the overlap, was one word: “Cecilia.” Unfortunately for the fan, Cecilia, a classic Simon and Garfunkel hit, was not played. Fortunately for the fan, he took off the T-shirt and held it up high right before the first encore, Simon saw it, and the fan threw it on stage for Simon to grab and take backstage to examine more closely. Affirmation, baby.
This latest release of Simon’s is really just the latest milestone in his brilliantly stellar career, and every opportunity that he provides us to hear his music or see him live should be taken advantage of and enjoyed to the fullest. He is one of America’s greatest musical talents and without question, an absolute national treasure.
Simon’s backing band for his 2011 tour includes: Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, pianist Mick Rossi, drummer Jim Oblon, saxophonist & keyboardist Andrew Snitzer, bassist Bakithi Kumalo, guitarist Mark Stewart, master percussionist Jamey Haddad and multi-instrumentalist Tony Cedras.
See the full setlist here.
Musichord Rating: 10/10
Soaring vocals, dub beats, electric guitar and mellow psychedelic grooves is what comes to mind when you mention the British group, Morcheeba, and, in their first concert in the U.S. since Skye rejoined the group last year, they displayed the full power of their fusion of trip-hop and rock from their 6-piece band, and – most importantly – Skye’s gorgeous lead vocals.
Opening up was Lance Herbstrong, a DJ combo who has worked with Perry Farrell and Thievery Corporation, accompanied by a lead electric guitarist, playing over their swirls of electronic sound and dub beats. This act was very entertaining, and “played” a very cool mixed up version of the Who’s “Eminence Front”. Using just their knobs and dials, and almost hiding behind the two Apple laptops in front of them, they mixed the lead guitar with beats, trippy dub sounds and an approaching thunderstorm of sound/noise that dissolved into one note spiraling downward from the electric guitar…and then back into the beats. Very trippy, very Pink Floydish, and very entertaining music. You can only go so far with this for a live show though..
Morcheeba was sparked from the musical genius of the Godfrey Brothers, Ross and Paul, and Skye Edwards’ incredible sultry voice, the three founding members. Very much like 90s contemporaries Portishead and Massive Attack, Morcheeba emphasized the mellower side of trip-hop, with spooky sound landscapes, electric guitar, Skye’s gorgeous vocals, and DJ mixing. For whatever reason, “creative” or “personal” differences, the Godfrey brothers split with Skye in 2003 after their Charango album. This was after running multiple lead singers through the turnstile, and even doing a Santana/Thievery Corporation type of “lots of different guest singers” style, which provided some interesting music, but still failed to satisfy. As is often the case, for Morcheeba, the original lineup is the best. They even compare their reunion to Coke Classic vs. the new formula on their website – “sometimes you just have to accept that some things are tastier the way they were, and leave it at that.”
Seeking to recapture the magic of their first six years, Skye and the Godfrey brothers have kissed and made up, and, after releasing Blood Like Lemonade last summer, launched a supporting tour. According to Ross, “…there’s a definite vibe that happens when the three of us work together, a combination of things that’s unquantifiable.” Ross Godfrey describes it himself on the Morcheeba website, “I can come home from the pub and spend hours going through thousands of old vinyl records trying to find the one perfect record to fit the moment, and that’s always the one we wanted to make ourselves, with that 3am, spliffed-out sound, like a warm, fuzzy blanket of psychedelia.”
Morcheeba opened up with “The Sea”, a classic from their masterpiece second album, Big Calm – If you get only one Morcheeba album, this should be it. “Never an Easy Way” was introduced as “from the first album, one for the old fans” and stayed true to the downbeat trip-hop that made their first album “Who Can You Trust” such a major breakthrough. Playing a song or two from most of their albums, they announced “this one’s for all the hippies out there,” and launched into “Trigger Hippie”, their first single from their first album, Who Can You Trust? “Crimson” from the Blood Like Lemonade rocked harder live than on the album and turned into a full-scale jam. There was also a surprisingly minimal amount of lightshow and background visuals overall, with Trigger Hippie about the only track that enjoyed background flowing lights; for this show, Morcheeba just came out and jammed.
They were enjoying themselves as well; Skye asked “how do you like my dress?” as she spun around, displaying her bright red dress with a cloak in the back, making her look more like a vampire countess than a pop singer. They enjoyed a few drinks as well, as Skye asked the other members of the band what they were drinking: “Whiskey”, and “Tequila and beer” were the immediate answers. They closed the encore and the night with “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day”, (with a medley of From “Russia With Love” mixed in) one of their poppiest and most upbeat songs, from Charango (an album that also showed them displaying their rap and hip-hop influences, working with Pace Won and Slick Rick).
Morcheeba will be visiting WXPN in Philadelphia on February 14th for a World Café performance, which should be available to listen to afterwards – don’t miss it (http://www.wxpn.org).
Musichord Rating: 8.5/10