Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Paul Simon's Dangling Conversations

These are the days of miracle and wonder

I would not give you false hope on this strange and mournful day

All my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity

Some people say a lie’s a lie a lie but I say why
Why deny the obvious child

The fact is most obits are mixed reviews,
Life’s a lottery, a lot of people lose

I would not be convicted by a jury of my peers

The nearer your destination the more you’re slip slidin’ away

As each drum rap or guitar riff  moved into a familiar tune, spreading another smile across my face, I said in recognition, “Oh just another classic.”  In fact the entire concert at Wolftrap Farm Park was a showcase of Rhymin’s Simon’s lasting imprint on American music.

Even the three new songs from his Stranger to Stranger album captivated the audience and Wrist Band might put him back on Top Forty Radio.  But the fans came to hear their favorites and Simon did not disappoint thanks to his limitless energy, still-strong voice and a tour band that threatened to blow the roof off the amphitheater. 

 These ten guys displayed some eye-catching versatility. At one point there were five people playing  guitars along with Paul. At another there were five people playing different drums.  And during one song alone the lead guitarist played a recorder and a saxophone between riffs. The result was a freshness and energy that made each song seem like it had just been released for the first time.

From The Boy in The Bubble to The Boxer, Simon led the musical parade down memory lane reminding us all that not only are his lyrics timeless but his music is always inventive and enthralling.

Homeward Bound was done as a little countrified waltz,  Spirit Voices was a mashup of Charles Ives and Aztec rhythms and You Can Call Me Al was an old fashioned barn burner that had the audience signing and dancing in the aisles.

Throughout the evening, I kept asking, “How can he top this?” and of course, he simply changed guitars and broke into yet another hit from his musical vault. By the time the saxophone solo punctuated Still Crazy After All These Years, the only response was more applause.

Simon has been bending our minds and mending our hearts with his special blend of ironic commentary, political anger and personal philosophy for at least half a century.  As he demonstrated on the stage and with his newest album there seems to be no stopping him. He is A Rock looking down on the sands of our times.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Joan Baez's Birthday Bash

Joan Baez cannot hit the high notes any more but she can still pluck your heart strings.
This contradiction made for a sometimes awkward, sometimes touching 75th birthday concert which aired on PBS’ Great Performances last week. The show (also airing online at featured what we used to call a Cavalcade of Stars (who could say no to Joanie?) and they performed the songbook of our lives as well as hers.

It featured everyone from Stephen Foster (Hard Times with Emmy Lou Harris) to Lennon-McCartney (Black Bird with David Crosby).  The casting was impeccable (Mary Chapin Carpenter on Donovan’s Catch The Wind and  Mavis Staples on Aint Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around)) but the execution showed more rust than diamonds.

It was hard telling what made this into a somber, funereal procession rather than a music party. She wore a black tuxedo and everyone seemed to have gotten a costume memo to wear black also. Song selections didn’t help. From God is God by Steve Earle, it was the mournful Phil Ochs’ There But For Fortune and even Freight Train seemed downbeat.

Mary and Emmy Lou, who are still in full voice, seemed to hesitate to take lead roles in their duets so they, along with Judy Collins, often struggled to find sync with Joan. 

After reminding people how she once sang Swing Low Sweet Chariot to awaken Dr. Martin Luther King from a nap (and performed it again at Woodstock) Joan chose to render it as a lullabye that must have caused some people in the Beacon Theater to nod off. You were hoping the stage curtains would part to reveal The Rebirth Brass Band to kick the song into high gear.

Mavis Staples tried to pick up the tempo but The Indigo Girls stayed in the background.
Richard Thompson was the next to genuflect on She Never Could Resist a Winding Road.

Queen Joan has certainly earned her title to folk-rock royalty with her voice and her undying devotion to political causes. No one has more battle stripes from singing on behalf of the poor and oppressed around the globe. Was there a civil rights or anti-war rally in the 1960’s and 1970’s (and most subsequent decades) that she did not headline?
Would there even be a Bob Dylan without her?

Jackson Browne got the party going with a touching, After The Deluge and Nano Stern surprised everyone with a rollicking, Gracias a la Vida.

Then Joan hit her stride when Paul Simon arrived (“We are talking serious legends department now, “ she quipped).  Their voices blended smoothly on “The Boxer,” and the crowd came alive as they sang:

And I am older than I once was
And younger than I’ll be
But that’s not unusual
No it isn’t strange
After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same.