Late in the Evening

Live review of Paul Simon at the Cedar Park Center

Paul Simon at the Cedar Park Center, 11.5.11
Paul Simon at the Cedar Park Center, 11.5.11 (by Gary Miller)

Toward the end of Paul Simon’s 40-minute encore at the Cedar Park Center Saturday night, in a song he’d revealed came at the finish when someone had cat-called for nearly two hours earlier – “Late in the Evening”– the 70-year-old singer-songwriter sang, “It was late in the evening and I blew that room away.” Not quite, but close enough.

In the Punch Brothers’ brief opening set, former Nickel Creek charmer Chris Thile led his electrified newgrass/bluegrass quintet through Americana that owed as much to Simon & Garfunkel as Bill Monroe, sharp suits, sterling harmonies, crystalline picking, et al. Thile’s mandolin plus his bandmates' acoustic guitar, stand-up bass, fiddle, and banjo gelled and jammed to such thrilling extent that an inspired cover of the Band’s “Ophelia” betrayed itself as the weak link in the 35-minute throwdown. At the Bass Concert Hall last year, the Punch Brothers and their opener Loudon Wainwright III delivered the same Grade A goods.

Simon and his eight-piece big band came on just as finely tuned, blowing in with Graceland kick-off “The Boy in the Bubble.” The bandleader bobbed and weaved like the boxer he once duetted about with Artie, his juggernaut backing then sliding into the dazzling “Dazzling Blue,” one of many standouts from Simon’s 2011 comeback, So Beautiful or So What.” And the clincher: “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” That’s where the script deviated from any notion of a typical oldies show.

In a jazzy, 1950s supper club arrangement, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” transformed from New York cool to Kansas City toe-tapper, which came as a welcome reappraisal of the song musically, only now the vocal melody wafted differently and definitely not as well as the original. On the other side of the new LP’s title cut, his 1972 solo debut hit “Mother and Child Reunion” suffered the same fate, its Caribbean bounce intact but the chorus now just a hair off. The buttering up helped somewhat.

“The aggregate audience in Austin has the highest national IQ,” offered Simon in his opening remarks. “That’s pretty bullshit, really.” He laughed, then: “I was thinking of wearing a cowboy hat tonight, but I consulted [my wife] Edie [Brickell] and she said that wasn’t going to work.”

Happily, most everything else did. Newbie “Rewrite” sounded like a Simon standard next to Simon standard “Slip Sliding Away,” here in Gene Autry mode, while the sterling new “Love is Eternal Sacred Light” proved perfect lead-in to Graceland’s ever-gorgeous “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.”

Segues could have been stronger. “Heart and Bones,” sliding into Tennessee tribute “Mystery Train” and Chet Atkins' “Wheels,” betrayed itself as close kin to “Graceland,” and sole Rhythm of the Saints representative “The Obvious Child” rollicked absolutely Cajun, but not back to back with Mardi Gras favorite “That Was Your Mother.”

Simon’s homage to George Harrison in the encore with “Here Comes the Sun” was heartfelt but misguided in the face of 20 other of his own songs that would’ve pleased the full house better, but opening the second half of the show with “Sounds of Silence” solo acoustic and then the band coming on for “Kodachrome” had already left everyone a little light-headed.

The ending triptych of “Graceland,” Bo Diddley’s “Pretty Thing,” and finally “Still Crazy After All these Years” probably sent home every single last one of us in search of our Paul Simon libraries.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Paul Simon, Punch Brothers, Chris Thile, Simon & Garfunkel, Chet Atkins, George Harrison, Bo Diddley

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