review: Art Garfunkel at Town Hall
New York native Art Garfunkel played a homecoming show on his tour at Town Hall last night (6/26), reprising many of the Simon & Garfunkel songs that launched his career and reading excerpts from What Is It All But Luminous, his self-described book of prose poems. Now 76 years old, “Artie,” as he referred to himself, looked trim and fit, although his trademark curly, golden locks have thinned considerably. “Here I am, still at it,” he said to a welcoming audience. “Singing is not a labor of love for me... it’s an addiction.”
The opening notes of “April, Come She Will” set a warm, nostalgic tone for the evening. Earlier this decade, Garfunkel suffered from vocal cord paresis, a condition caused by years of smoking that severely limited his ability to sing. He quit smoking, gradually recovered and began touring again in 2014 after releasing The Singer, a 34-song retrospective of his career. He read a selection from What Is It All But Luminous that dealt with losing and rediscovering his voice before taking on “The Boxer,” one of the more challenging Simon & Garfunkel classics.
Although people were there to hear the songs that were a major part of the soundtrack of the Sixties, two notable tunes from Garfunkel’s solo career — “Perfect Moment” and “Bright Eyes” — were reminders that there are additional chapters to the Art Garfunkel story. He also covered Randy Newman’s “Real Emotional Girl” to open the second set. Still, it was songs like “Homeward Bound,” “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” and “Kathy’s Song” that resonated with the audience. Before singing “Scarborough Fair,” he said he had finally figured out what it was about. “It’s a song about loss.”
Accompanied by Nashville’s Tab Laven on acoustic guitar and British-born Dave Mackay on keyboards, Garfunkel's set had a stripped-down sound that allowed the vocals to remain in focus. To be fair, his voice is not as strong or as rich as it once was, but how could it be? Like many singers his age, Garfunkel has had to adapt and re-interpret songs that were once second nature to him. He shared a story about his most celebrated vocal performance, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” A recent documentary about Paul Simon included a scene of Simon discussing an earlier take of “Bridge” with a different tempo and phrasing. “In some ways, it sounded better than the one we recorded,” Art said, “so I’m going to sing it that way.” He closed the second set with a powerful “Sounds of Silence” before returning for a brief encore of the childhood prayer “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.”
There were references to former mate Paul Simon, some of which included undercurrents of lingering friction, but the two have reunited in recent years for memorable performances. With Simon having announced his final shows scheduled for September in New York, it’s anyone’s guess whether childhood friend Artie will be on hand in the pair’s former backyard of Corona Park, Queens, where Paul plays his very last show (following two MSG shows and one Prudential Center show). Stay tuned.