Monday, 27 March 2017
Simon and Garfunkel: Live/Compilation/Film Soundtrack Recordings Part One: 1968-1988
(Columbia/Legacy, Recorded January 1967, Released July 2002)
He Was My Brother/Leaves That Are Green/Sparrow/Homeward Bound/You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies/A Most Peculiar Man/59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin' Groovy)/The Dangling Conversation/Richard Cory/A Hazy Shade Of Winter/Benedictus/Blessed/A Poem On The Underground Wall/Anji/I Am A Rock/The Sound Of Silence/For Emily Wherever I May Find Her/A Church Is Burning/Wednesday Morning 3 AM
"It's a still-life watercolour of a now-late afternoon"
The earliest surviving concert we have of Simon and Garfunkel dates from three months or so after the release of 'Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme'. Like all Simon and Garfunkel concerts (until the reunions at least) it's a low-key affair and features just two voices, one guitar and an already pretty classic songbook to choose from even though S and G were quickly becoming one of the biggest acts on the planet. Fans of the complex, densely arranged studio records might be in for a shock as detailed full-band and often orchestral-based arrangements of songs like 'Dangling Conversation' and 'I Am A Rock' are delivered with nothing more than an acoustic guitar. Simon and Garfunkel clearly weren't built to be a live 'band' - their perfectionism and eye for detail make them a natural in-the-studio-for-months act if ever there was one and you can almost hear the pair's frustration as they make the occasional mistake other acts simply wouldn't notice, coming in a split-second too early or fluffing the odd line. You wonder what the mid-twenties Simon and Garfunkel would have said over their older 70-odd selves letting some of these recordings out the vaults (or, it has to be said, why they were recorded at all: knowing Simon and Garfunkel it was probably to monitor their performances to see what areas they could 'improve' on and nothing more).
Yet if you know the original records really well and have those as a basis to compare these concerts to then these live performances can be a fascinating parallel world where Simon and Garfunkel made every record the same way they made their first album, simply directly and with nothing to sustain them more than clever lines, memorable tunes and belief. In many ways it's like a longer version of 'The Paul Simon Songbook' with Art guesting. On this concert especially their telepathy and synchronicity is exceptional: all those pre-fame years' worth of practice staring at each other's mouths so they could work out the exact second to come in on the same line is extraordinary. Arty never sounded sweeter or purer than here, where his vocal is a 'leading instrument' no longer buried by elaborate productions while Paul is free of all the 'calcium deposit' troubles that will limit his guitar playing in later years proving himself to be a player of real skill. Though five concerts by the duo are now available, to differing degrees (three in their prime and two reunions) this is by far the most essential, with Simon and Garfunkel still very much good friends by this point and still hungry enough to do their material justice.
The concert is impressively long considering that it is literally two men and a guitar throughout, with nothing to take the pressure off them. The show was in fact too long for a single CD so a song had to be cut out (a fun version of 'Red Rubber Ball' sadly, which had already appeared on the 'Old Friends' box set in 1997 alongside 'A Poem On The Underground Wall' 'Blessed' 'Anji' and 'A Church Is Burning'). The material is pretty evenly split between each of their first three albums: six tracks from 'Wednesday Morning 3 AM' (highlighted by a swinging 'He Was My Brother' at the very start), six from 'Sounds Of Silence' (highlighted by a sparse, slower lamented version of 'I Am A Rock') and oddly only four from most recent album 'Parsley' (where period single 'Dangling Conversation' works best, freed of the pretentiousness of the orchestral arrangement and a rather more 'heartfelt' performance in this version). There's also a rare chance to hear a Simon and Garfunkel version of the 'Songbook' tune 'A Church Is Burning' (which would have fitted onto the 'Wednesday' album nicely) and it's one of the highlights of the set (as is 'Ball' if you can find it, a silly Paul Simon original given away to 'The Cyrkle'). It's not all great: rogue single 'Homeward Bound' is a little perfunctory and a preview of a new single 'A Hazy Shade Of Winter' is rather down on power compared to the full band recording and a rare version of its B side 'You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies' is nice and bluesy, but a little rambling. This is also perhaps the weakest of all the multiple versions of 'Sound Of Silence' around, a little too rushed and thrown away (the duo will do it better justice when they see just how much the song means to people on tours like this one). However for the most part Simon and Garfunkel are on-form this January New York night and get a lot more things more right than they get wrong.
It's not just the songs though that make this concert special, as odd as that might sound. Arty especially, reveals a talent at speaking to the audience (usually to cover his partner's tuning) and is a great story-teller, informing the audience why 'A Poem On The Underground Wall' was written (after a rather lurid graffiti message was discovered on the wall behind the 'tube train' shot of the duo for 'Wednesday Morning 3AM' 'which was precisely what we wanted for the cover of our LP!') The interaction between the two is also genuinely warm and full of affection, in contrast to the rather more barbed atmosphere of the next couple of tours. This is a welcome souvenir of a time when Simon and Garfunkel really were 'old friends' and a highly impressive addition to the five Simon and Garfunkel records.