review/pics: Paul Simon said goodbye back where it all started, in Queens
"How much fun is it to sing a song about Corona... in Corona?!" Paul Simon exclaimed to the crowd after playing "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" at the very last stop of his last tour, back in his old stomping grounds of Queens. "This is like, two miles from where I used to play high school baseball," he said at another point. The Forest Hills High School and Queens College graduate's final farewell concert was filled with references to the borough that raised him. His setlist was the same as the two Madison Square Garden shows he the previous two nights, but it felt extra special to be hearing these songs performed for possibly the last time outdoors in the gorgeous Flushing Meadows Corona Park, with planes flying to and from LaGuardia overhead and the Observation Towers from the 1964 World's Fair hovering in the background. And the crowd surely agreed. When Paul sang the "Goodbye to Rosie, the Queen of Corona" lyric in the aforementioned "Me and Julio," the crowd raised their voices tenfold to sing it along with him, and then erupted into a roaring cheer.
Paul was introduced by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who were both clearly thrilled that he chose Queens as the location for his goodbye concert, and who talked about Rhymin' Simon's impact and his everlasting love of New York City. Paul then took the stage, as he did throughout the rest of this tour, to the Simon & Garfunkel classic "America." That song turned 50 earlier this year, and Paul still sang it with the same boyish tone he had back in 1968. Surely he has reasons for retiring from touring, but losing steam isn't one of them. It was clear from the first notes he sung on Saturday night that his voice is still strong after all these years and that he's still a very able, very commanding performer. After "America," Paul moved on to material from his solo career, with the classic "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" and then a mix of less popular Graceland cuts and some newer material, before really getting the crowd moving with the back-to-back of "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" from his first post-S&G solo album. His many-membered band really adds a groovy flavor to those songs that makes them come alive in a way that differs from the album versions, and his band was on last night. Like she did at MSG a night prior, Edie Brickell came out to whistle during "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," and she was kicking and dancing and looked like she was having as much fun as the crowd was.
Though this final tour has seen Paul playing a career-spanning set, he is also supporting a sort-of new album, In the Blue Light, which features new arrangements of deep cuts from throughout his career with the yMusic ensemble, The National's Bryce Dessner, Bill Frisell, and Wynton Marsalis. Members of yMusic were playing in Paul's band all night, and for three songs, they gathered around him on stage and performed their new, orchestral-style arrangements of Paul's music with him. They did "René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War" and "Can't Run But" from In the Blue Light, and it was a real treat to see those songs performed in this unique manner. Then they did one more song that wasn't recorded for In the Blue Light, a song Paul said he has an interesting relationship with. He talked about writing it and "giving it away" for someone else to sing, and then coming back to it here and there over the years, and now finally "reclaiming" it for his final tour. The song in question was the beloved title track of Simon & Garfunkel's final album Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Paul and yMusic gave it a new, fleshed-out arrangement in a similar style to the In the Blue Light arrangements. After performing it, Paul thanked the late Aretha Franklin, who had a hit with the song in 1971. (It was hard not to notice that he made no mention of Art Garfunkel, who sang the original version of the song. The words "Simon and Garfunkel" never came out of Paul's mouth once all night, and they were almost entirely left out of the video montage chronicling his '60s years shown on screen during the second encore too.)
The yMusic section was followed by a run of songs from 1990's The Rhythm of the Saints and a couple tracks from his two newest albums. And if I had to pick a low point in the show, this would probably be it. Paul and his band sounded great and were fun to watch no matter what song they played, but if this is truly his final tour, it would've been nice to hear him break out more of his Simon & Garfunkel classics (only five of his 26 songs were S&G songs) and go a little lighter on the latter half of his career. That said, Paul came back strong from that lull in the set, leading Flushing Meadows Corona Park in a dance party to Graceland faves "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me Al," and then coming back for two very special encores.
The first encore was highlighted by a breathtaking "Still Crazy After All These Years." Sometimes, the crowd raised their voices to sing the refrain, but mostly, you could sense that Paul had almost everyone in a trance. After all these years, that song can still give you goosebumps. The second encore had the most amount of Simon & Garfunkel at once, with three S&G songs ("Homeward Bound," "The Boxer," "The Sound of Silence"), as well as two songs from 1973's There Goes Rhymin' Simon ("Kodachrome," "American Tune"). Paul played "Homeward Bound," "American Tune," and "The Sound of Silence" entirely solo, and he made the gigantic field at Flushing Meadows Corona Park somehow feel intimate. You could've heard a pin drop during any of those songs, especially during "The Sound of Silence," which closed the night on the evening's highest note. When Paul announced this farewell tour, he said, "After this coming tour, I anticipate doing the occasional performance," and the thought I had when I walked out of Flushing Meadows Corona Park last night was how much of a treat it would be if he ever decides to do an entirely solo acoustic show (maybe at somewhere like Carnegie Hall like Neil Young did). With everything Paul Simon has achieved during his lengthy career, with his highly impressive multi-cultural band, there's still nothing like Paul Simon alone with an acoustic guitar, playing a song he wrote when he was 23.
Pictures, videos and the full setlist are below.
Paul Simon at Flushing Meadows Corona Park - 9/22/18 Setlist
America (Simon & Garfunkel song)
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
The Boy in the Bubble
That Was Your Mother
Mother and Child Reunion
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War
Can't Run But
Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel song)
The Obvious Child
Questions for the Angels
The Cool, Cool River
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
You Can Call Me Al
Late in the Evening
Still Crazy After All These Years
Homeward Bound (Simon & Garfunkel song)
The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel song)
The Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel song)
photos by P Squared