Paul Simon Dives Deep Into Songbook For Debut Austin City Limits Taping (SHOW REVIEW)

Those who were lucky enough to get into Thursday’s taping of Austin City Limits were treated to something special with an intimate performance from Paul Simon. Somehow over the course of his long and illustrious career and the television show’s 42 years, Simon has never made an appearance. But he more than made up for that with a two-hour set that covered his expansive catalogue.

Wearing a shiny purple jacket, the 74-year old Simon took the stage to his 9-piece band playing the instrumental track “Proof”, greeted the audience with a subtle smile, and jumped right into the percussive throb of “The Boy In The Bubble”. Simon’s current tour is in support of his upcoming album Stranger To Stranger – to be released June 3rd – yet only a few of those songs would make the setlist. Instead, Simon gave the audience exactly what they wanted while also reminding us all just how many timeless songs he has in his canon. Hits like “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”, “Rewriter”, “Slip Slidin’ Away” and the zydeco-tinged “That Was Your Mother” would make early appearances alongside newer songs like “Dazzling Blue” off 2011’s So Beautiful Or So What. These songs were brought to life by Simon’s band, who added flourishes of percussion, accordion and brass to give them a more robust sound. The crowd went wild for older hits like “Mother Child Reunion” and a stripped down yet rollicking take on “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard”. The new songs that were included in the main set, “Stranger To Stranger” and “The Werewolf” worked well alongside the hits and reassured the audience that even in his elder years Simon is still dedicated to the craft. The latter tune, though memorable, bordered on cheesiness as the drummer donned a wolf head hat piece and the band howled along to electronic wolf sounds and a didgeridoo as if a full moon loomed overheard.

One of the catchiest tunes off the new record came during the encore. “Wristband” carried a hint of crankiness as Simon railed against a culture where status boils down to how much access you have. Of course, in typical Paul Simon fashion the tune was light-hearted in its jabs, instead taking on a bouncy sing-a-long feel. “Graceland” and a charming “Still Crazy After All These Years” would follow before the band said goodnight and Simon returned for a hushed solo take on “Sound Of Silence” that enraptured the audience, who took the song’s title literally and were completely mute as they watched this legendary performer alone in the spotlight. For the most part, Simon’s setlist matched what he has been playing on his current tour, one that touches on nearly his entire career and also shows fans his cross-cultural musical taste. Most of all, in a year that has seen the passing of many greats, it felt like an immense privilege to witness this musical treasure grace the stage of Austin City Limits for the first and probably only time.

Photo by Scott Newton/Courtesy of ACL and KLRU 

Paul Simon Setlist The Moody Theater, Austin, TX, USA 2016

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2 Responses

  1. As awesome as Paul Simon is, he will always be better with Garfunkel. If they could only check their egos at the door…

  2. When I was a Kid when Paul was a Kid, I heard a little Bubblegum tune called “Hey, Schoolgirl,” by Tom and Jerry. Add in some “Kodachrome,” mix with “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” sprinkle in “The Boxer,” simmer with 2 cups of “Graceland,” stir with “Mrs. Robinson,” and reduce slowly with “The Sounds of Silence.” Maybe that’s the Recipe for Paul Simon’s great career.

    I wrote “Platter Chatter” for the Newspaper for years, went to Newport from ’62 until ’66, and through the haze of a hot and sweaty night in July, 1965, sat in Row 8, Center, when Bobby Dylan came on Stage lugging an electric guitar while they set up two huge speakers that never worked, watched him tear up when the Folkies stopped puffing on their Hash Pipes and sipping Robitussin AC long enough to”Boo” their little Hearts out until Peter Yarrow told everyone to cool it, listened to “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” and knew for sure the Times were surely a-changin’ as we sat there and shared a few Doobies, drank our Beers, and looked for some pretty girl to smile back and to hook-up with for the Night.

    I am a solid Fan of Austin City over many years. I think their Best show by far showcased a National Treasure, Van Morrison. If American Music moves you, it is undeniably the Champion. The others are still waiting behind the velvet ropes for the hot spotlight and hip crowds to welcome them to their World, as you watch late on a Saturday night, with a cold wind coming in through a crack in the window, and hear your Heart beat to Mumford and Sons and feel like you did when you first heard Buddy Holly Rock!

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