Nostalgia-driven concerts and farewell tours have become their own cottage industry, with everyone from Fleetwood Mac to the Eagles to the Doobie Brothers to Elton John mounting shows that are largely dedicated to the songs that made them superstars in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.
Paul Simon has always been an unlikely member of this cadre of artists — a singer-songwriter with the lyrical wisdom and love for a wide range of musical styles that make him more troubadour poet than rock star. At the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night, Simon once again proved why. The show marked the beginning of the Los Angeles stint of his farewell tour, appropriately titled “Homeward Bound.” (Though Simon waffled on the exact meaning of “farewell tour” and whether it was really the end of the road for him, clarifying that he’ll continue to write and perform music for as long as he can.)
Avoiding the usual overproduced trappings of today’s concerts, Simon spent most of the two-hour performance bounding through his solo songbook, ticking off both No. 1 hits and lesser-known deep cuts. For every charting single like “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “You Can Call Me Al,” there were more unfamiliar tracks like “Dazzling Blue,” “Spirit Voices,” and “The Cool Cool River.” In many instances, the spotlight wasn’t merely on Simon, but shared with his band — which includes the sextet yMusic — giving everyone from the brass and percussion sections to the pianist a chance to shine.
While the set list may not be the greatest hits compilation that some fans are expecting, it does provide a comprehensive picture of Simon’s strengths as a musician. He delivered his peculiar blend of exuberance and insight on tracks like “Kodachrome,” “Mrs. Robinson,” and Graceland,” and strayed into something more ephemeral and profound on “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “The Boxer.” This was a fully realized portrait of Paul Simon, both a defining artist of his generation and a working musician continuing to re-define his sound.
As a singer, Simon has always been known for his folksy voice — a unique timbre that can convey emotion with deft, light touches, like he’s reaching into the depths of your soul. But at 76 years old, his voice isn’t quite what it was, and his vocals were timid on the concert’s opening tune “America.” He eventually found his groove, though, modulating keys and adjusting phrasings to suit his range. This was aided by Simon frequently breaking into spontaneous dance moves.
By the time he closed with the solemn “The Sound of Silence,” standing alone in a single spotlight, finger-picking his way through one of his most insightful ballads, every ounce of emotion, passion, and power had come into focus. His range may have shifted but Simon is still able to hold the crowd with only the power of his voice and a single acoustic guitar, leaving the audience with as sterling and profound a meditation on loneliness and the inability to communicate as can be heard on the original 1964 recording.
But it was the tune that gives the tour its title that made it clear how special the evening really was. Though Simon suggested this wasn’t really the final goodbye, watching him warble his way through “Homeward Bound,” accompanied by a slideshow of career highlights felt like the end of something. It was a farewell to a time when music had the power to cut through everything — the news cycle, the disillusionment, any personal woes — and speak to a desire to find your way home through a song. B+
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
The Boy in the Bubble
That Was Your Mother
Mother and Child Reunion
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War
Can’t Run But
The Obvious Child
El Condor Pasa (If I Could) (instrumental)
The Cool, Cool River
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
You Can Call Me Al
Still Crazy After All These Years
Late in the Evening
Questions for the Angels
The Sound of Silence