Under the Greatest Hits Live banner, Eagle Vision Classics presents Paul Simon at Philadelphia’s Tower Theater on October 7, 1980, which was previously released in 2003 as Live at the Tower Theatre. While a good set of easy-listening soft rock is played over the 53 minutes, almost half the tunes are not part of what are generally considered Simon’s “greatest hits.”
This concert was actually part of Simon’s tour in support of his 1980 album One-Trick Pony, which had been out for about six weeks. He was accompanied by members of the funk band Stuff: Steve Gadd (drums), Eric Gale (lead guitar), and Richard Tee (electric piano). Tony Levin (bass guitar) rounded out the main line-up, all of whom also played on the album.
Simon plays songs from all his solo studio albums, opening with the Latin-influenced “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” from his debut. Gale delivers a silky smooth solo on the bridge. The mood changes with a version of “Still Crazy After All These Years” led by Tee’s piano that is so smooth and laid back it’s a surprise Simon isn’t singing it in a recliner. George Young brings some restrained energy to the number with a very nice sax solo.
Simon’s sense of humor is evident as banters with the crowd. At different times, he denies it’s his birthday after something shouted from an audience member, suggests people move closer if they like, and he introduces two guys on the camera crew who are running around to record the show.
Simon switches to acoustic guitar for “Something So Right,” a wonderfully insightful love song about people who get in the way of their own happiness. He goes right back to electric as the band delivers a sweet, easy groove for him to tell the tale of a “One-Trick Pony.” In case something so right goes wrong, Simon offers his #1 hit “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Here, a horn section backs the chorus, and while it makes the song bigger, it doesn’t make it better. However, Gale once again is allowed to shine.
The most energetic performance of the evening is “Late in the Evening.” Some of the audience is shown on their feet, not enough room to do the samba, but compelled to move by the Latin rhythms nonetheless. The horn section here is essential to the arrangement. Gadd creates an intriguing sound as he plays with two drumsticks in each hand. Levin doubles on little cowbell.
The DVD closes out with two popular songs from Simon’s days with Art Garfunkel: “The Boxer” and “The Sound of Silence.” I know artists like to experiment, but the keyboards added to “The Boxer” don’t work. The audience cutaways show some people entranced, but they completely sap the emotion out of the song, creating a Muzak version for elevators and waiting rooms. Simon redeems himself with a solo version of “The Sound of Silence” on his electric guitar.
The video leaves a lot to be desired. Showing the limits of the technology, the image has a very soft focus and the colors are all faded. The audio has been upgraded and is available in Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround Sound.
While not an essential performance, Live From Philadelphia is a good document of Simon before his resurgence in the 1980s with his live re-teaming of Garfunkel in Central Park and his critically and commercially successful album Graceland. Six of the tracks from this concert can be heard at Wolfgang’s Vault.