The songwriting icon returns to his hometown borough for what may be his final tour--and brings out the hits
If this was goodbye, Paul Simon knows how to say it well. Earlier this week, the 74-year-old legend told the New York Times that he is done with show business and “coming towards end” of his six-decade career, though the artist onstage Thursday at Queens’ Forest Hills Stadium didn’t look or sound like a man in a hurry to go—unless the evening’s catalog-spanning two-hour set and four thunderous encores were just his way of saying he’ll miss us too, at least a little.
Strolling out last night in a silvery blazer and fitted black tee, Simon launched into Graceland essential “The Boy in the Bubble,” a jazzy, horn-lifted “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” and “Dazzling Blue” from 2011’s So Beautiful or So What without preamble before finally pausing to address the seated crowd. “Hello, my friends. It’s kind of a time warp, you know?” he said with a grin, a prodigal son happily returned to his home borough. “I’m trying to get over whether it’s strange or whether it’s some beautiful dream.”
So Beautiful’s wry, syncopated “Rewrite” followed, then segued into a tender “Slip Slidin’ Away,” whose high notes he stretched like taffy, drawing out the sweetest parts of the melody. As the sunset began to settle over the stadium’s leafy open-air dome and “Mother and Child Reunion” yielded to a zydeco-tinged “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” the audience—a sea of comfort-shoed baby boomers dotted with a bright-eyed smattering of second- and third-generation fans and the occasional discreet puff of smoke—finally stood up all together to dance, greeting the line “Goodbye Ro-ooo-sie/Queen of Corona” with a wild locals-only whoop. (Almost every New York City reference earned one, actually, maybe none more than the “just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue” bit in “The Boxer” that came later.)
Simon himself paused to wink at those “Julio” lyrics, wondering aloud, “What did Mama see? What did these guys do that was against the law?” before pivoting to a story about trekking down the Amazon and the ayahuasca trip that inspired “Spirit Voices,” a gentle hymn about river mouths and banyan trees that felt like it had just been carried in on the June breeze, thousands of miles from its original muse, and laid at his feet. The unmistakable drum-kick opening of “The Obvious Child” brought the resting boomers to their feet again, where they stayed for the title track to his excellent new album Stranger to Stranger and then gratefully sat again for a soft-shuffling “Homeward Bound,” played more jaunty than sad.
Stranger’s “The Werewolf,” with its beat poetry wooze and spooky-great lines about “money-colored eyes” and sushi knives, followed, and longtime guitarist Vincent Nguini, a Cameroon native who has been with Simon since Rhythm of the Saints, took the mic to tell a tale about gorillas and snake-wrangling that led to a winking explanation of the unusual time signature behind that album’s “The Cool Cool River.” Simon turned to the crowd to provide handclaps-and-fingersnaps percussion for an cappella intro to “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” next, then welcomed the full band back in for a giddy (if Chevy-less) “You Can Call Me Al” singalong and the sardonic Stranger track “Wristband.”
And then came the encores, so many they only ended when venue curfew demanded it and the house lights came up: “Still Crazy After All These Years,” a toe-tapped cover of Elvis Presley’s “That’s Alright (Mama),” “Late in the Evening,” “The Boxer,” and finally, 1973’s “American Tune”—a fitting, elegiac end for an American icon walking purposefully toward the twilight of his career, and letting go on his own terms.