Paul Simon – review

Hammersmith Apollo, London

"It's almost there," says Paul Simon four songs into his set – "there" presumably being the point at which the show really takes off. The audience laughs indulgently. As far as they're concerned, he was there from the minute he stepped on stage. They are understandably excited to witness one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, but their energy eclipses his, because he is not one of the greatest performers. Simon, nearing 70, is weirdly uncharismatic and reserved, extending none of the witty conversational rhythms of his songs to his comments between them. Perhaps his recent throat infection, which he was complaining about at his weekend appearance at Glastonbury, is to blame.

It's one of those shows where, superficially, everything seems to be in place. His eight-man band is relentlessly proficient, with heavily signposted solos and smooth transits between the numerous genres that Simon has tried since his split with Art Garfunkel 40 years ago. But proficiency can be the enemy of excitement. A cover of Jimmy Cliff's Vietnam is bloodless and a snatch of Mystery Train is there only to advertise Simon's blues guitar-playing. When he sings, "The train I ride is 16 coaches long", he might as well be describing the Heathrow Express. Another cover, Here Come the Sun, is pretty yet puzzling, given that he avoids all but two of his own 1960s classics.

Still, there are moments that merit the adoration. The Boy in the Bubble and You Can Call Me Al (including a snappy bass solo by Graceland stalwart Bakithi Kumalo) are fittingly jubilant, while new song Questions for the Angels is wry and moving. A solo reading of The Sound of Silence raises otherwise dormant goosebumps. Simon softly bends the melody and reinhabits the words, replacing youthful earnestness with bruised wisdom. Alone on the stage, just him and his past, he is undeniably "there".


Dorian Lynskey

The GuardianTramp

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