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Monday, Nov. 14, 2011

Paul Simon @ The Riverside Theater

Nov. 11, 2011

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Isn't it enough that Paul Simon, after nearly 50 years of writing some of contemporary music's most compelling songs, is considered a spokesman for his generation? At age 70, does he have to put on one of the best concerts as well?

Friday's packed Riverside Theater wouldn't have had it any other way. The audience may have originally come to see "The Sound of Silence" composer for his lyricism and thoughtfulness, and he did perform a moving solo acoustic version of the 1964 blockbuster that put him and former partner Art Garfunkel on the musical map. But they ended up singing along and dancing in the aisles to a seemingly endless number of Simon's solo hits that reminded us all just how prolific and protean a musician he is.

The diminutive guitarist, a black fedora covering his now balding pate, looked spry and energetic in front of his eight-piece band of multi-instrumentalists, including Appleton native Mark Smith on guitar. Musical gear was everywhere and an old fashioned light show formed a backdrop to the group.

Bluegrass darlings The Punch Brothers opened the evening with a crisp 35-minute set that once again demonstrated why mandolin player and frontman Chris Thile and his quartet are so popular. Simon came on at 9 p.m., finally exiting at 11:20. For our money, he could have performed all night.

Simon tapped the S&G songbook for only a few numbers, among them "Silence" and "The Only Living Boy in New York." Mostly, he leaned on his solo releases, which gave him more than enough material.

The inaugural accordion chords of "The Boy in the Bubble" from Graceland opened the evening. Other crowd-pleasers included "Kodachrome," "Slip Slidin' Away," "Crazy Love Vol. II," the zydeco-flavored "That Was Your Mother," "Hearts and Bones" and an energetic "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" that sent dancers into the aisles.

The band even threw in a few covers. George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" seemed a natural, but Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley," the only pop song named after its composer, was an unexpected and oddly satisfying choice.

One of the best moments came during the seemingly endless string of encores, when Simon came back on stage with The Punch Brothers. The quintet performed pleasing bluegrass versions of "Cecilia" and "The Boxer," with a near-giddy Thile filling Garfunkel's role.

Maybe next time around it will be Simon & Thile. Both musicians could do a lot worse.


Photo credit: CJ Foeckler

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