‘Can you believe I’m still doing this?” inquires 75-year-old Art Garfunkel as he emerges slowly from the shadows at the side of the stage. Slim, scholarly, all in black, his dandelion white afro long gone, he looks the spit of Larry David. “Well, I’ll tell you why I am. It’s because singing is an addiction.”
It’s almost half a century since Simon and Garfunkel’s slick yet yearning folk rock and immaculate vocal harmonies made Bridge Over Troubled Water one of the bestselling albums of all time. Since then, an impression has emerged of Garfunkel as a bitter curmudgeon, resentful of the stratospheric solo success of his erstwhile musical partner Paul Simon.
There is none of that tonight. Instead, flanked by just a guitarist and a keyboardist, he gives us an idiosyncratic yet intense evening, rich in nostalgia, reflections and glancing intimations of mortality. “Did I get old and jaded, or did the world just grow flat?” he wonders aloud at one point, apropos of nothing.
Garfunkel’s airy, keening tenor is no longer the pitch-perfect miracle it was, ravaged by advancing years and the paresis of his vocal chords that saw him temporarily lose his middle range seven years ago. He misses out words, or entire lines, and gamely approximates notes he would once have hit with precision. Yet when he finds his range, as on a featherlight caress of The Boxer, his cherubic croon is still breathtaking.
He’s in full reminiscence and anecdotage mode, remembering singing in Queens synagogues at 10 years old, and introducing a gorgeous take on the spectral Scarborough Fair by mulling over the 1979 suicide of his then partner, Laurie Bird: “I always sing this to her.” He marvels that some Simon and Garfunkel songs are now 50 years old, then admonishes the audience for clapping: “Why would you applaud that? Is it because we’re still alive?”
The sentimental hokum of his Mike Batt-penned 1979 smash Bright Eyes is somehow rendered poignant, then he blithely announces that Kathleen Chitty, the British-born subject of Paul Simon’s 1964 track Kathy’s Song was “the love of Paul’s life”, which may endear him neither to Simon nor Simon’s wife of 25 years, Edie Brickell. After a valiant, quavering stab at Bridge Over Troubled Water, Garfunkel wanders off, one eyebrow raised, perfectly wry against the dying of the light.