Friday, July 27, 2007

What A Dream I Had Last Night...

A quick review of Art Garfunkel in Kansas City, July 26, 2007

(A recent photo lifted from the Rolling Stone website due to the no camera's enforcement here)

The thrill of seeing live music has been on the wane with me for many years. Probably too many shows when I was younger and too much to do now to allocate the necessary effort they require. That said, I still know when something comes along with just me in mind and will still go that extra mile. Catching Art Garfunkel last evening at the Folly Theater was one of those times. This was the latest, and best, in the Cyprus Avenue at the Folly Theater series. Topping this one should be their new mission statement as far as I’m concerned.

To me this was an event of the highest order come to our fair city. Legends come and go and on this evening one dropped by to serenade us. Just knowing the artist, the song catalog and the venue assured everyone there of a special evening. It was like knowing who was gonna win before the game starts, the only thing left to determine was the margin.

As a pure vocalist he has had few peers in his lifetime. And at sixty five his voice may have lost some edge if hitting the highest of notes is the assignment. The assignment though is to move the listener and he’s still able to do that in ways I wasn‘t prepared for. His voice now sports a richness honed over decades of singing and his phrasing takes its place among any of the great pop singers. His latest recording of standards proves that he’s never lost his love for the “song.” He may have been fortunate enough to sing the songs of Paul Simon for the past forty plus years, but he knows he’s in an ocean, not a backyard pool when it comes to lending his voice out. For fans like me it’s a joy to hear him tackle anything.

I won’t go song for song or debate this or that, the Kansas City Star did a fine job of covering the nuts and bolts of the show. For my money it’s the way he presented himself and the music that elevated the evening. Working with just a four piece group and sticking to basic, only slightly textured arrangements, he managed to make the theater resemble a large recording studio. His praise of the theater and the crowd was off the cuff and never once did you feel he was having any less an enjoyable time than the audience. Apparently this was the first night of a short tour and he admitted to some nervousness. I suspect he’s a perfectionist when it comes to his music. And why shouldn’t he be, he’s offering quite a canon of American Popular Music.

Opening with Paul Simon’s solo era composition of “American Tune” was an inspired choice on several levels. First it let us know that a lot of thought went into his set list. Second, that he’s still very much connected to the ideals of the sixties and other peoples dreams not just his own. Taking a thirty five year old song, that hasn’t aged a day when you examine the lyrics, sent out a powerful statement. The evening of course wasn’t all heavy handed and there were more than enough light hearted moments to go around.

Including his own version of “The Boxer” was for me, the ticket price, parking and a cocktail (plus tip) all rolled into one. The song stands for me as one of the greatest of the twentieth century. (This link will take you to an earlier blog entry I did going on and on about it) Many others have covered the song, but I’ve never heard anyone other than him and Simon do it justice. It’s just too personal a song and others just can’t seem to get inside of it. But, if I could sing I’m sure I’d take a swing at it too.

Other special moments included his take on “Kathy’s Song” and “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her.” Two songs that showcase the pure poet in Paul Simon. Either song could stand alone as a written poem without the music. Both performances bordered on a cappella and he had the crowd hanging on every word. And speaking of the crowd, they couldn’t have been better. There was silence while he was singing and silence while he was talking and enough applause to fill a much bigger hall. I may have to get out for a few more of these concerts.

I went there thinking an evening like this would make me feel young again by seeing someone from my musical youth. It didn’t. What it did make me feel was glad to be the age I am so that I could remember what it was like hearing all of those songs for the first time. (That was worth price of my wife’s ticket) To be a kid again and hear the DJ say that at the top of the hour he would play new music from Simon & Garfunkel, “a song about going to the Zoo.” Collecting all of their singles with the picture sleeves, then buying the album later, or seeing “The Graduate” and hearing their music used to such perfection up there on the screen. Youth isn’t wasted on the young, you just have to be older to enjoy it.

The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones are no doubt the gateway through which the music of the sixties is filtered for the most part. No real argument here, but I would hate to think what my music collection would have been like without Paul and Art. Here’s wishing Art a successful rest of the tour and a nod to Paul, whenever we may find him.

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