Paul Simon LIVE at First Avenue!

Tonight I was one of the 1,500 people who were fortunate enough to hear Paul Simon play live at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

I grew up listening to Paul Simon (and Artie Garfunkel, of course): Scarborough Fair was one of the first songs I learned to play by ear on the piano, along with Paul McCartney’s Yesterday.

I loved their melancholy, minor-key melodies and their complex harmonies. And although I was too young then to understand the heartbreak of lost love, something about those songs touched me deeply.

Since then, my list of favorites has grown: America; Old Friends; So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright; The Boxer; Kodachrome; Graceland. And 30 years later, Simon’s songs still touch me deeply.

I think that’s because he’s not just a brilliant musician, or one of the most gifted songwriters of our time. He’s also a wonderful storyteller. Grief, loss, sadness, joy, hope, redemption: It’s all there. Simon is a writers’ writer.

And all of that came out in his performance tonight. “He didn’t talk much,” I said to Esteban after the show. “He didn’t need to,” Esteban replied. And Esteban was right. Simon’s songs had said it all.

At times Simon seemed to be in a pensive, introspective mood — like when he took the stage by himself to sing The Sound of Silence as an encore. At that moment he was at his purest, I think: Just a man, his music, and his guitar.

But his band was pretty incredible, too. In a sort of musical Chinese fire drill, one of his drummers joined in on the guitar, his saxophonist played the flute, and one of the keyboard players took on an accordion. And through it all, Simon and his friends seemed to be having a great time.

His 27-song setlist spanned two hours of almost non-stop music. It was a wonderful mix of looking back and looking ahead: Simon gave us slightly new renditions of some of his old favorites, like Slip Slidin’ Away. And with the songs he blended in from his new album, Simon told us that he’s not quite done yet — not by a long shot.

One of the unexpected pleasures of the evening was ending up, by pure serendipity, next to my former colleague Jon Bream.

What a wonderful treat to hear his thoughts first-hand after the show.

And what a privilege to get to see Paul Simon, up close and personal. It was an evening I won’t soon forget.

Here are some parting shots …

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  1. Love Paul Simon. I can just imagine (and kind of hear) the stripped down version of Sounds of Silence — beautiful. Nice way to spend a Tuesday night, eh?

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