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Paul Simon – Stranger To Stranger / Live in Minneapolis 6/14/16

June 16, 2016



My introduction to Stranger to Stranger was a podcast where Paul Simon detailed the composition of the album’s opening  cut “Werewolf.”  I have long appreciated Simon’s songwriting and production, but this podcast was a revelation on how deliberate his art is. It is easy to think that songs just pop out of the songwriter’s head fully realized (I know better).  After listening to Simon dissect the track I now appreciate him even more – this is not magic – it is craft. I don’t believe in magic, I believe in craft (genius plus 10,000 well placed hours).

With that introduction I was psyched for the new album and the tour (my wife and I had tickets). Simon’s generation of rock and pop stars are sure aging gracefully. I need to stop being shocked at the brilliance coming out of musical geniuses in their seventh decade (Dylan, the Stones and McCartney for example). They are aging like whiskey. Simon is one of a rare breed who has consistently delivered new quality material over a nearly 60 year career (he had his first hit at sixteen in 1957).

Stranger to Stranger came out a couple of weeks ago and I have been listening to it pretty much daily. It is brilliant. Hopefully Stranger to Stranger is not Simon’s last album, but if it is he is going out as a champ. It is lyrically clever, rhythmically  adventurous and the arrangements are ambitious. Yet at no point does it come off as pretentious – it is well crafted pop.

I first became a serious Paul Simon with 1980’s One Trick Pony.  I was aware of Simon and Garfunkel and Simon’s solo Columbia years, but it never really resonated with me.  A buddy of mine, with exquisite musical taste, recommend One Trick Pony and so I gave it a serious listen. It had come after  a five-year recording drought for Simon.  I was immediately smitten. I enjoyed his next album Hearts And Bones, which was more adventurous than One Trick Pony.  Then there was Graceland – a masterpiece and on my personal top ten greatest albums list.

I am not going to go track by track through Stranger To Stranger, but I will point out some highlights.  “Wristband” sounds like a hit song.  It is lyrically comical, yet poignant.  The narrator is in a band and gets locked out of his gig (the comical part) and then Simon turns that joke into an analogy for the disenfranchised (the poignant part).

“Cool Papa Bell” is some nice afro-funk that lyrically contemplates deep thoughts while seeking advice from the fastest man ever.  Per Negro League great Josh Gibson: “Cool Papa Bell was so fast he could get out of bed, turn out the lights across the room and be back in bed under the covers before the lights went out.”

“Insomniac’s Lullaby” is a lullaby and it has this beautiful prayer:

Oh Lord, don’t keep me up all night
With questions I can’t understand
While I wrestle my fears
Over all this is great album and rivals Graceland in the Simon catalog.
Years ago (1999) I saw Simon as the “opening act” for Bob Dylan.  At the time Simon was not in my rotation and I remember being struck by how many amazing songs he played that night – he was seriously rivaling the great bard.  I had high hopes for the new live show.  It was going to be a nice venue (Minneapolis Orpheum  Theater), it was date night  and Simon is touring on the strength of Stranger To Stranger. I had a little trepidation given Simon’s 74 years.  Simon delivered.  He was absolutely joyful in his demeanor.  He did a nice cross-section of his career and was fearless with introducing his new material.  He was youthful. To be expected his band was top-notch.  I loved the way they reinvented his classics. If you get a chance to catch him on this tour do it.
On my way out I snapped this picture of the set list:
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Missing from this set list is the final encore – a solo Simon singing “The Sounds of Silence.”  A beautiful ending to a beautiful evening.
On the way home my wife and I chattered in amazement at what we had just witnessed.  What more can you ask from a live show – we were enchanted.
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