Paul Simon Concert Review - June 16, 2018 Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA

By: Jared Hitch (@JaredHitch)

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Some things in life you never forget. For me, I’ll never forget the first time I saw The Graduate.  I was recently out of college just watching TCM thinking ‘I heard this movie was good.  I guess I’ll check it out.’ What I wasn’t expecting is for the dripping apathy of Dustin Hoffman’s character Benjamin Braddock to connect so well with me. The Graduate has become one of my favorite movies of all time and I don’t think it would have hit so hard if not for the opening scene of Braddock moving through the airport with the stoic brilliance of The Sound of Silence playing through those scenes. “Hello Darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.”

That song and the entire Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack are as much a part of that movie being a classic as the directing and the acting. I have since come to know and love mostly everything by Simon & Garfunkel and in turn, Paul Simon. There’s just a nostalgic comfort in those songs even though I didn’t become a fan until my twenties. So, needless to say, when Paul Simon announced, at 76 years old, he would be embarking on his final tour I had to check it out. Most of my friends wouldn’t know Paul Simon from James Taylor so I knew I was going it alone. That’s OK, I’ll say I’m bringing my old friend, Darkness.

Since I was going stag I sprung for a really good seat. Best choice I’ve made in a long time. After a chat with the nice older lady next to me about seeing Billy Joel here last week (Billy Joel wasn’t here last week. He’s coming around in August.  I think maybe she experimented too much during Simon & Garfunkel’s heyday) the lights dimmed and the anticipating was high.  Paul Simon walks out to thundering applause with a full band behind him, horn section and all, and starts playing the familiar refrain of the S&G classic, “America” I knew then that this was going to be a special night.

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He’s going for the full career spanning setlist and I couldn’t have been more right. Classic after classic follows, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”, “Mother and Child Reunion”, “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard”, Graceland tracks like “The Boy in the Bubble”, and “That Was Your Mother,” deep tracks like “Rewrite”, “Dazzling Blue”, and “Spirit Voices.” The very rare track “Rene and Georgia Magritte with their Dog after the War” was beautifully played with the band gathered around him in a very intimate setting sitting down taking turns on their instruments. This lead to an audience member drunkenly yelling “That’s my favorite song” to which Simon, not missing a beat, says “Who Cares?” It was funnier than it sounds. Although Garfunkel is probably somewhere going “Yeah that sounds like Simon”

In the middle of the set he told a story about writing a song and how it just came through him and he didn’t feel like it was his song anymore so he wanted to claim it back.  He then played what was a song usually sung by Art Garfunkel, “Bridge Over Trouble Water.” I was glad to hear that one and don’t get me wrong, Simon nailed it but no one sings it like Garfunkel. It’s a shame the final leg of the tour couldn’t include a cameo by Garfunkel. I mean Hall still drags Oats around, right? All jokes aside it was a great moment, if not a little sad. 

After playing many tracks, maybe too many, from the Rhythm of the Saints album he then got the crowd to its feet with more Graceland hits “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes” and one of the best music videos of the 80s, “You Can Call Me Al” The Encore was just as great as “Still Crazy After all These Years” rings just as true now than ever before and the crowd ate up singing along to every verse. 

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Thankfully there was a 2nd Encore and this set of songs broke me. As an entire pictorial retrospective is shown in the background and some reminiscing on his part he goes into “Homeward Bound” and “Kodacrome,” two songs longing for a time gone by. “The Boxer” is next, a song I didn’t expect to hear but it’s one of my favorites. I know I’ll get flack for this but I’ve seen Paul McCartney before and I got just as many chills hearing the crowd sing the “na na nas” here as when I heard “Hey Jude”.

I could have left there and been happy but then in a bit of a surprise, “American Tune” was sung beautifully and is even better live then on the Rhymin’ Simon album (Hmm..Starts with America, ends with American Tune. You don’t need to play Simon Says to see that Simon is saying something.) After a little pause the guitar plays those familiar chords and the words come out, “Hello Darkness My Old Friend,” it was there the tears were flowing. It was official,  I was a blubbering mess.  I didn’t want the song to end and I wanted to saver every last moment of this crowd, this moment, and this artist. The song ended, the crowd cheered, the musicians bowed, the lights came on, and it was over.

I believe Paul Simon is playing his actual last show ever in Queens in September. If you get a chance to go there or any other stop on this tour I can’t suggest it enough. These songs will last long after any of us are gone. Some artists not only represent their time but are evergreen. After the death of Tom Petty last year I vowed never to take any for granted again. Even if you go alone, just go. There are thousands of other concert goers with you and there’s no better feeling. Thank you Paul for the tunes and the memories and the tears. Long live good music. 

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