Simon and Garfunkel reunite
by Seth Rogovoy

(ALBANY, N.Y., June 11, 2004) – Early in the opening show of their summer reunion tour at the Pepsi Arena on Thursday night, Art Garfunkel noted that he and Paul Simon are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their friendship, which began when they met in a sixth-grade musical version of “Alice in Wonderland.” Simon picked up the thought, and added that this year marked the 47th anniversary of their first argument.

The balance between Garfunkel’s childlike sweetness and Simon’s adult mordancy always characterized the chemistry between the legendary folk duo, and it continues to do so all these years later. It’s apparent throughout the duo’s Simon-penned songs, which veer from the overt sentimentality of “Old Friends,” which kicked off the concert and which will become literally true in nine years if the two of them can hold onto their turbulent friendship for the better part of one more decade (“Can you imagine us years from today/Sharing a park bench quietly?/How terribly strange to be seventy”), to the sneering misanthrophy of “I Am a Rock” (“I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain/It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain).

That balance even extends to the duo’s appearance. His head still framed by an only slightly-receding halo of blonde curls, the ever-smiling, angelic-voiced Garfunkel towered over the beefy, balding Simon, who only occasionally allowed a hint of a smile to indicate that have been enjoying himself.

But as Garfunkel remarked after the crowd gave him an enormous ovation following a particularly light, airy folk ballad, “It’s very easy to sing when the songs are this good,” crediting Simon, whose songs, for all their depressive, self-consciously poetic motifs, hold up remarkably well, especially musically, 30 and 40 years on.

The tight concert, which clocked in a little on the thin side just shy of two hours, had several highlights. The seven-piece band, featuring pianist Warren Bernhardt, percussionist Jamey Haddad, and guitarist Mark Stewart (on loan this summer from the Bang on a Can All-Stars), fueled a suitably psychedelic version of “Hazy Shade of Winter” early on, one of several arrangements that strove to turn Simon and Garfunkel’s mostly coffeehouse-suited material into arena-ready folk-rock. On Hammond organ, Bernhardt gave a very mid-‘1960s, Dylanesque flavor to “I Am a Rock,” and Haddad revealed a Latin pulse heretofore hidden inside the rhythms of “Mrs. Robinson.”

Highlights also included a stirring version of “My Little Town,” whose sophisticated harmonic modulations still excite and inspire nearly 30 years on, and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” on which the duo traded off the first two verses and joined forces for the climax.

The riskiest move may have been to invite the Everly Brothers on stage for a mid-show mini-set. Besides making convincingly clear the openly acknowledged origins of the duo’s harmony style in the Everly’s organic blend, the set by the Everlys boasted a huge injection of energy and enthusiasm into the arena. There’s just no way of topping the direct rock ‘n’ roll thrill of “Wake Up, Little Susie” or the crystalline beauty of the Everly’s harmonies on “(All I Have to Do Is) Dream.”

Simon and Garfunkel did some gorgeous harmonizing of their own, however, particularly on “Scarborough Fair” and “The Sounds of Silence,” and there is no minimizing the nostalgic thrill of seeing and hearing this legendary duo back on stage together after all these years. Perhaps it was opening night jitters, but Simon seemed distracted or preoccupied throughout the show. Garfunkel was more focused and Zen-like, and one hoped that Simon might feed off of his partner’s apparently bottomless well of serenity.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 12, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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