Concert Reviews

Paul Simon Quietly Wins Over the Winspear Opera House

Paul Simon
Winspear Opera House, Dallas
Sunday, May 8, 2016

Paul Simon knows there's no real trick to getting old. It just sort of happens. You keep doing what you do, and maybe you do it with grace. At Winspear Opera House on Sunday night, Simon didn't do anything too fancy. He was just himself — and he was as charming as ever.

You'd never know the guy is 74 years old.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Simon is no grizzled vet. He hasn't had to reinvent himself to suit a decaying voice, like Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash. He has, in essence, stayed the same old rhymin' Simon: a humble, soft-spoken man with a quiet sense of humor.

Backed by a nine-piece band, dressed all in black, Simon bantered about looking for a home in Oak Cliff with his wife, Edie Brickell.  More than just a singer-songwriter, he was a band leader, prowling and dancing around the stage like some lovable version of The Man From Another Place, gesturing for his fans to get up out of their seats and dance.
His music has stayed remarkably fresh over the years. It's easy to forget that Graceland, now 30 years old, came 20 years into his career. It was a late-period masterpiece, but not exactly a comeback; there was no middle-aged identity crisis for Simon. Ever since, his output has been sparing, though consistent, with new music only coming along every five or six years — whenever the mood and inspiration strikes him.

Amongst all the classics, there were even new (in one case, yet-to-be released) songs that stood out on Sunday. "The Werewolf" and "Wristband," both of which appear on his upcoming album Stranger to Stranger, carried dark, ominous overtones. Their political and allegorical underpinnings came in contrast to most the rest of the night, which managed to feel lighthearted even with a slow, aching number like "Slip Slidin' Away."

For all his lyrical acclaim, Simon has never really championed people or ideas in his songwriting. His characters may at times be tragic or downtrodden, but his storytelling isn't; it tends instead to be playful, absurd and often witty, its emotional depth owed mostly to the sensitivity with which he approaches it. That gets reflected back in his tendency to jam pack a line with four words where one or two would do, like on the rapid-fire "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes."
But Simon understands that sometimes the less you say the better, and where he may have excelled most on Sunday was as a musical arranger. His backing band was stellar, switching between instruments (one of the drummers even played slide guitar from behind his kit) and genres, hopping with ease from African rhythms to Spanish melodies. But they always receded into the background to add weight at the right moments.

"Diamonds" was a perfect example, starting off with a haunting a capella before building into a rave up with a dual drum solo. Better yet was "The Boxer," which closed out the night: Starting with Simon's elliptical guitar playing, the crowd sang along with the "lie, lie, lies" and it ended on Simon's eerie howling. No tricks, nothing fancy, but still beautiful after all these years.

The Boy in the Bubble
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
Dazzling Blue
That Was Your Mother
Honky Tonk
Slip Slidin' Away
Mother and Child Reunion
Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard
Spirit Voices
The Obvious Child
El Condor Pasa
Homeward Bound
The Werewolf
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

Encore 2:
The Boxer

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Jeff Gage
Contact: Jeff Gage