Just before the release of Bridge Over Troubled Water, which would be their last studio album together, Simon & Garfunkel toured North America and several of those shows were recorded for a live album that was to be Bridge’s follow-up. Better late than never, Columbia/Legacy has finally released the album on the 40th anniversary of those recorded dates.
Cobbled together from six performances over the course of a month, the pair present four songs each from Sounds of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; three from Bookends; and five from the upcoming Bridge, which Garfunkel first refers to when introducing “Song for the Asking” telling the audience “they are near the completion of a new album.” They also cover Gene Autry’s “Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” which had previously been covered on Songs Our Daddy Taught Us by their idols and inspiration, the Everly Brothers.
About a third of the way through the album, “Mrs. Robinson” finds Simon & Garfunkel joined by three session musicians from Los Angeles’ Wrecking Crew, bassist Joe Osborn, drummer Hal Blaine, and keyboardist Larry Knechtel, as well as guitarist Fred Carter, Jr., who the duo “have been making records with for the last two years” Garfunkel reveals.
Garfunkel announces a new song, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which finds him joined by Knechtel’s piano. His amazing vocals of Simon’s lyrics about love, support, and friendship leads to the biggest ovation on the disc as whistles and catcalls augment the applause and deservedly so. What a treat it must have been for the audience to hear a future classic song for the first time exquisitely performed.
Creating a bookend, “I Am A Rock” finds the duo alone again for the album’s last four songs. Some type of outburst and shouting takes place in the audience at the Detroit show leading into “Leaves That Are Green,” but everyone quickly settles down. A lot of screaming followed by hushes also precedes the final track, “Kathy’s Song.” Acting as the professionals they were, there’s no hint of their deteriorating relationship although it is interesting to note the last song finds Simon singing alone.
The editing on Live 1969 is very impressive as the tracks from different concerts are seamlessly blended together; however, the pacing is a bit off. The disc builds in intensity for about three quarters of the disc and then the last few songs, while they sound very good and receive an enthusiastic response, make for a rather subdued send-off. I was also surprised by the album length as just under an hour seems rather short for a concert. However, those are minor quibbles considering some people in the intervening four decades never got to hear this album
While the thieves who steal content online are certainly a factor in the woes of the music industry, the weasels involved in the business are culpable as well. How any executive at Columbia could have heard the simple beauty/beautiful simplicity of the opening track “Homeward Bound” made by the voices of Simon & Garfunkel accompanied by a lone acoustic guitar and not know they had a hit on their hands is difficult to ascertain. I will grant that the masters could have been lost in the vaults or there were legal issues that needed wrangling, but without explanation, and the liner notes give none, how on Earth Live 1969 took 40 years to release is unfathomable.