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ISSUE 117 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/31/2003

Old friends

By Molly Bayrd
Variety Editor

Friday, October 31, 2003

Black and white images of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel flashed across three giant viewing screens as the subtle guitar riff from “America” flooded the darkened arena of the Xcel Energy Center Monday night.

Periodically, the screens flashed images from the 1960s – the Civil Rights Movement, peace protests and lovers – to which the majority of the audience responded with sighs of recognition and familiarity.

As the house lights went up, the famous pair stepped onstage together for the first time since 1983, softly playing the sentimental tune “Old Friends.” The gentle hit was barely audible above the roaring audience, many of whom were overcome at the sight of the endearingly humble duo.

After the initial swells of applause quieted, the pair segued into the bittersweet “Bookends” (from the 1968 album of the same name), and proceeded to play one of the most memorable sets many had ever witnessed. Nearly all of the duo’s “favorites” were covered, each with soulful deliberation and noticeable emotion. The result was an evening of pure nostalgia.

As they soared through rousing tunes such as “At the Zoo” and “Baby Driver,” Simon and Garfunkel sang with an emotional and melodic unity that they had not displayed for upwards of 20 years.

Slowing the concert’s pace, the pair then played “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” (during which time they unveiled some of the most beautiful harmonies they’d ever produced) and “America,” followed by “Kathy’s Song,” which Garfunkel insisted was “the most beautiful love song that Paul has ever written.”

A exceptionally talented band accompanied the duo, and added a powerful (though at times, overly orchestrated) dimension to the music. A haunting autoharp lent unprecedented beauty to “The Boxer” in the pair’s first encore, while an electric guitar spiced up “Hazy Shade of Winter” and “I Am A Rock.”

The duo’s closeness, though once seemingly displaced, appeared as if it still ran deep; Garfunkel announced that the pair’s rather implausible reunion tour coincided with the 50th anniversary of their friendship.

The pair began performing together as children: Garfunkel played the Cheshire Cat opposite Simon’s White Rabbit in a grade school production of “Alice in Wonderland.” At 13, they began making music under the pseudonyms “Tom and Jerry,” and at 16 they released their first album. One of their very first songs – the lighthearted and unpolished “To the Schoolgirl in the Second Row” – was playfully included in their phenomenal set list.

The clarity and radiance of Garfunkel’s voice seemed hardly diminished by the strain of time and age, and Simon’s genius for songwriting has never been more apparent. Several of Simon’s solo hits, including “Slip Slidin’ Away” and “My Little Town,” were only improved by the addition of Garfunkel’s distinctive vocals.

The performance of “My Little Town” was also revitalized by another surprising addition – Simon, his guitar swung low, in a bout of fervent dancing that conjured up images of Elvis and James Brown. His uncharacteristically energetic gyrations were testament to the jovial and laid-back ambiance of the concert.

Amidst other classic tunes such as “The Only Living Boy in New York” and “Homeward Bound,” Garfunkel and Simon took a break to lend the stage to their friends the Everly Brothers, who sounded wonderfully upbeat with their hits “Wake Up, Little Susie,” “All I Have to Do is Dream” and “Let It Be Me.” Then the brothers welcomed Art and Paul back for a lively duet of “Bye Bye Love,” an Everly Brother’s original hit which both groups made popular (the Everly Brothers in 1958, Simon and Garfunkel in 1970).

The show finished with a solid double-encore, the first of which included the almost irritatingly catchy “Cecilia” and the second of which ended with “The 59th Street Bridge (Feelin’ Groovy).” By the end of the show, most of the audience was on their feet, dancing (and likely reminiscing about eras past).

The pair lingered on stage for several minutes after their music had subsided, as though they were sorry to see the evening end. After waving graciously to the crowd, they reluctantly withdrew from sight. The resounding applause of the grateful and satisfied audience was proof enough that the two old friends – reunited, at last – still have what it takes to put on a truly unforgettable performance.

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