Written by Ellis Ian Fields
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Monday, 16 July 2012

image for Paul Simon at Hard Rock Calling - Review Yes. The Boxer. Thank you.

EIF News & Features' tame music critic Pierre Noxious hasn't put pen to paper for us for a while, so when we heard he was going to see Paul Simon at Hyde Park we water-boarded him until he agreed to review the show for us at standard NUJ rates…

Paul Simon is a songwriter and musician of unparalleled skill, observation, wit and talent.

Just as well really, because Hyde Park is a horrible, horrible venue for a large festival gig like this.

It is not an amphitheatre, there are no gradients affording the audience a downward view of the stage. So that when the inevitable lanky git decides to place himself between you and the stage you either spend the gig looking at the giant screens, or you move to another space until another lanky git comes along.

Thanks to the minuscule map on the back of the ticket, it appears that entrance 12X, by which all non-VIPs must enter, is half-way up Park Lane. Wrong! We emerge from Hyde Park tube station and have to schlepp all the way up to the bloody Speakers' Corner/Marble Arch end. The approach to security is a little niffy - have these woodchips that cover the ground been sourced from Sunnyside Farm? A bucolic smell is definitely in the air. Fortunately, on the other side of security they smell more of pine disinfectant…

We find a spot in time to catch Christina Perri who is pleasant enough, but we're not really paying attention (sorry Christina) as we settle and get our bearings. We have tried to get near the stage - not possible - so we have to place ourselves behind the fenced off technical area… we are already so far back the performers are small and we are relying on the screens.

But one of my companions is keen to give Alison Krauss and Union Station a proper hearing, so, loyally, I get to my feet and join him.

Now blue grass really isn't my thing, but this is a talented group of musicians and as such it is difficult not to admire them. And of course they have a crowd-winning moment as Krauss tells us that guitarist Dan Tyminski is the "singing voice of George Clooney in the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" And sure enough, they play out with Man of Constant Sorrow as performed in the film. Good Stuff.

So we make our stand from where we hope to glimpse Mr Simon. I can see the stage clearly… then I can't… then I can again… it's like that as people jostle for space. The ladies in our group find they might achieve a better view by kicking the wood chips into piles to stand on.

It is gratifying to note that we are surrounded by people who could barely have been twinkles in their fathers' eyes when Graceland was released in 1986 - for it is a 25th anniversary reunion of the Graceland musicians that has been the selling point for this gig.

However, with a thumping opening rendition of Kodachrome, the lead single from 1973's second post-Garfunkel era album There Goes Rhymin' Simon, which segues into Gone At Last, it is clear that we are not here just for Graceland after all. Which is good news… we want more that around 40 minutes, don't we? And, speaking as a fan, yes everyone loves Graceland but I like to pretend to resent those who only came on board then: "Where were you when he needed you to buy Hearts And Bones?" Ridiculous, of course… Simon never needed smart-arsed, in-at-the-ground-floor snob fans.

Simon will turn 71 this October but the age doesn't show and he certainly looks better than he did at Glastonbury last year.

Tonight proceeds to be a Simon hits juke box - in fact he performs just two numbers from the five post-Graceland albums: The Obvious Child, from The Rhythm of the Saints and Dazzling Blue from last year's So Beautiful Or So What?

Which is good news for the morons around me. The unfortunate thing about this day-long festival is that these youngsters about me have been putting away the £4.50 lager and smoking dope all afternoon and they are off of their faces and out of their tiny little gourds! I am clattered by flying elbows and hands and splashed by beer as they dance to the African rhythms of Graceland and when Ladysmith Black Mambazo appear to perform three pieces, including Homeless and Diamonds on the Soles Of Her Shoes the plonker in front of us looks by turns to be in the throes of ecstasy and then as if he's about burst into tears. And then there's the screaming: "I love you Paul!!!" from one of the pissed bints behind me and the distraught/ecstatic bloke in front. (Idiot - he thinks the percussive intro to The Obvious Child is Cecilia). When they don't recognise a number or feel like dancing the chattering starts… but to hold a conversation, they have to make themselves heard above the PA system…

Anyway, the first of tonight's guests, Jimmy Cliff, is introduced by Simon as "one of my all-time heroes" four songs into the set. He kicks off with The Harder They Come, which is followed by Many Rivers To Cross - as predicted by the loudmouth, pissed bint behind me (how did she guess?) - and Vietnam before the obvious team-up for Mother And Child Reunion (I decide not to tell moronic mare behind me that I could have predicted that one…)

One surprise is a delightful series that sees Hearts And Bones seguing into the blues standard Mystery Train which in turn becomes the old instrumental Wheels.

The other guest tonight is Hugh Masekela and I have to admit that we choose his three numbers to make our escape from the brain dead around us and move to somewhere more comfortable. After performing Mandela (Bring Him Back Home) with Masekela, Simon hits us with the play-out mega-crowd pleaser You Can Call Me Al - a chorus and brass line that any audience just has to join in with.

The encores begin with a solo The Sound Of Silence but one of the most interesting treatments of the night - for long-time fans, anyway - is a gently country-tinged version of The Boxer featuring Union Station's Jerry Douglas on Dobro.

Simon's current band - as ever - is a collection of superb musicians as anyone who saw his Union Chapel show on TV recently will know. Multi-instrumentalists to a man, they make an excellent noise and even songs from way back in the early '70s, which we've heard many times before, live new lives.

They're just damned good songs, after all.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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