The last couple of years have been pretty good for Paul Simon fans. Following a five-year hiatus, 2011 saw the release of his critically-acclaimed studio album So Beautiful or So What. Earlier this year, a stellar reissue of Simon’s 1986 classic Graceland provided unreleased tracks, live recordings, and interview material. The documentary Under African Skies offered a comprehensive look at the creation of that landmark album.
Now, Hear Music and Concord Music Group have issued the double-disc live album and concert DVD, Live in New York City. The concert was taped June 6, 2011 at the landmark New York City venue, Webster Hall. Built in 1886, the hall has hosted a truly impressive roster of live artists over the decades. It’s relatively small capacity (about 2,500 people) provided a perfectly intimate atmosphere for Simon’s intricately arranged, largely acoustic set list. Simon’s eight-piece band, which includes original Graceland bassist Bakithi Kumalo, brings a pleasingly laidback feel to the 20-song set.
The selection of songs understandably highlights the recent So Beautiful or So What, with four tunes included from that album. Unlike so many aging artists, whose latest work often cues concertgoers to take a beer break, Simon’s new stuff (especially “Rewrite”) is among the best of his career. The recent songs sit comfortably next to classics like “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “Slip Slidin’ Away.” As with any artist whose back catalog is as rich as Simon’s, there isn’t room here for all his big hits. You won’t find “You Can Call Me Al” or Graceland’s title tracks, but there are five songs from that celebrated album, including “The Boy in the Bubble” and “Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes.”
The encore section delivers some of Simon’s most enduringly popular numbers, leading off with an unaccompanied version of “The Sound of Silence.” The audience, relatively sedate throughout the performance, perks up a bit during rousing renditions of “Kodachrome” and “Late in the Evening.” The latter features some particularly tasty licks courtesy of keyboardist Mick Rossi. The three piece horn section (Tony Cedras, Andy Snitzer, and Mark Stewart—all of whom share additional instrumental duties) sounds tight and crisp. Simon remains in great voice right through the end, a soothing performance of “Still Crazy After All These Years.”
The audio quality is superb, with a mix that expertly balances each component of the ensemble. Acoustic guitars ring through with great resonance, and Jim Oblon’s drums sound satisfyingly propulsive. The DVD includes the entire concert, filmed in a straightforward manner that keeps the focus squarely on the musicians. The videography is clear and efficiently lighted. The simple DVD menu offers a choice between playing the entire show or a list of individual songs. Live in New York City is tremendously satisfying as a retrospective look at Simon’s career, as well as ample evidence that he’s still in his prime.