In 1968, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel sang about two old friends at 70 ”sharing a park bench silently.” Simon and Garfunkel, now both 62, opened a sold-out three-night stand at Madison Square Garden last night, singing ”Old Friends.” They are on a reunion tour — doing their first shows together since 1993 — that’s likely to sell more than $50 million worth of tickets.
That’s not bad for an act that hasn’t bothered with new material in a generation. The best they could do was have Mr. Garfunkel join in on songs from Mr. Simon’s solo career since they broke up in in the mid-1970’s.
The songs Mr. Simon wrote for Simon and Garfunkel in his 20’s were acutely conscious of time passing. Songs like ”Hazy Shade of Winter,” ”Leaves That Are Green” and ”Old Friends,” and one the duo performed from Mr. Simon’s solo career, ”Slip Slidin’ Away,” see the present disappearing into a past that can never be recaptured. ”Preserve your memories,” the duo sang, ”they’re all that’s left you.” It was a theme the concert embodied far too well.
In the 1960’s, Simon and Garfunkel offered thoughtful, lapidary music that recognized turbulent times in songs like ”The Sound of Silence.” But Simon and Garfunkel were at their least graceful making grand statements, and they increasingly turned inward, following Mr. Simon’s more whimsical lyrics and expanding musical vocabulary.
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They were comforting without seeming escapist; Mr. Simon’s lyrics were too smart, his music too intricate.
What Simon and Garfunkel are selling now, at up to $250 a ticket, isn’t harmony. Mr. Simon, both songwriter and guitarist, and Mr. Garfunkel, whose job was to add airy upper harmonies and sing an occasional Simon song by himself, have been famously estranged through the years.
On stage, Mr. Simon said they started singing together at 13 and started arguing at 14. And since they first broke up in the 1970’s, they have found it increasingly difficult to recreate the precise vocal blend preserved on Simon and Garfunkel albums. A live album, like the one they made from a 1981 reunion, would need a lot of doctoring.
Mr. Garfunkel briefly put an arm around Mr. Simon as they began ”Old Friends,” and while he made a point of calling Mr. Simon’s songwriting a gift, he still seems to have trouble believing he’s the second banana. When he had a foreground part in a song, he sustained it to the point of dragging the tempo; ”I Am a Rock” and ”The Boxer” were nearly transformed from folk-rockers to dirges. When Mr. Garfunkel had a high note in the background, he often pushed it, perhaps because he now has to strain to reach it.
Mr. Simon’s voice has, like his songwriting, grown more supple and conversational through the years. But Mr. Garfunkel’s voice has frayed; it buzzes like a drafty old house. When the duo traded verses on formerly solo Simon songs like ”El Condor Pasa,” ”American Tune,” and on Mr. Garfunkel’s old showpiece, ”Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the contrasts were glaring.
Although nostalgia was thick in the arena from an audience filled with baby boomers, Simon and Garfunkel didn’t try to replicate their younger selves. Sometimes, as in ”Scarborough Fair,” they simplified the music, using a cello to replace what had been vocal counterpoint; sometimes Mr. Simon sang improvisational variants of his old melodies.
‘The Sound of Silence,” which was released during the 1960’s in an acoustic guitar version but became a hit after as a folk-rock remake, segued between both versions. The band also added touches of Mr. Simon’s more recent delvings into world music. ”The 59th Street Bridge Song” included a slide version of a didgeridoo, an Australian wooden trumpet.
Singing the old songs together, Simon and Garfunkel don’t follow some of the rudiments of vocal harmony groups, like breathing in the same place or watching each others’ faces.
It’s something that might not have occurred to a spectator if Simon and Garfunkel weren’t touring with the duo they learned their harmonies from, the Everly Brothers.
Don Everly, 66, and Phil Everly, 64, haven’t always gotten along, either. But when, in mid-concert, they sang their hits like ”Wake Up Little Susie” and ”All I Have to Do Is Dream,” their brotherly unanimity was virtually untouched by time. (by Jon Pareles)
Recorded live at the Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA, December 20, 2003
Art Garfunkel (vocals)
Paul Simon (vocals, guitar)
Warren Bernhard (piano)
Jamey Haddad (percussion)
Jim Keltner (drums)
Pino Palladino (bass)
Larry Saltzman: Guitar;
Rob Schwimmer (keyboards, theremin)
Mark Stewart (guitar, cello)
The Everly Brothers (on 10. – 13.)
Don Everly (guitar, vocals)
Phil Everly (guitar, vocals)
Simon & Garfunkel:
01. Old Friends 3.36
02. A Hazy Shade Of Winter
03. I Am A Rock
05. At The Zoo
06. Baby Driver
07. Kathy’s Song
08. History of S&G
09. Hey Schoolgirl
The Everly Brothers:
10. Wake Up Little Suzie (The Everly Brother
11. All I Have To Do Is Dream
12. Let It Be Me
13. Bye Bye Love (with S&G) 3.14
Simon & Garfunkel:
14. Scarborough Fair (Traditional) 4.05
15. Homeward Bound 6.07
16. The Sound Of Silence 5.10
17. Mrs Robinson 5.51
18. Slip Sliding Away 5.08
19. El Conda Pasa (Traditional) 3.53
20. Keep The Customer Satisfied 3.32
21. The Only Living Boy In New York 4.32
22. American Tune 5.06
23. My Little Town 4.35
24. Bridge Over Troubled Water 8.57
25. Cecilia 4.40
26. The Boxer 8.21
27. The Leaves That Are Green 2.52
28. Feelin Groovy 7.12
29. Mrs. Robinson 3.27
All songs written by Paul Simon except as indicated