Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment GHL 37042-9
Video: 1.33:1 full screen color
Audio: DTS 5.1 Surround Sound, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Stereo
This DVD title is a misnomer, since it is definitively not Paul Simon’s greatest hits. The 11-song, 53-minute program comes from a longer, two-hour concert held at Philadelphia’s Tower Theater on 10/07/80. First off, the performance set list tilts too much toward Simon’s then-current solo release, One Trick Pony, which had a few good tunes but also some lackluster pieces. Secondly, many great Paul Simon hits were still to be written, including popular singles from his album Graceland (1986). And third, the edited version of the videotaped concert deletes some fine material fans would deem essential in any so-called greatest hits collection. For instance, its difficult to imagine any Simon show without “Loves Me Like a Rock,” “Mother and Child Reunion” or “Kodachrome.” But without a verified set list, it is hard to know what exactly is missing.
That said, there are some positive elements regarding this DVD reissue. For one, this release is preferred to viewing the initial videocassette tape (which is rare to find), since existing copies are getting aged. Second, the sound has been Dolbyized, which is better quality than found on VHS, though the DVD audio has not been remastered.
But there are also some negatives. There are no extras: no director or performer commentary, no bonus footage and no making-of short. In short, this is a bare-boned, budget-priced tour document that replicates the original film and nothing else. Those looking for a few more extras can search for the 2003 higher-priced Canadian import Geneon [Pioneer] DVD that features a biography, discography, and photo gallery.
The performance is quite good. By 1980, Simon had developed a secure solo career and had a solid back catalog of Simon and Garfunkel and solo material to draw from. Along with strong songwriting, Simon pulled together an all-star East Coast pop/jazz band, enlisting guitarist Eric Gale, pianist Richard Tee, drummer Steve Gadd, bassist Tony Levin, Levin’s brother Peter on synth, and a sturdy five-man horn section, used on specific songs, led by tenor sax player George Young. Eric Gale’s fretwork is savory and appealing and Steve Gadd and Tony Levin, who leaves his Stick at home, are equally in the pocket. This is the most sympathetic group Simon toured with up to this point in his career. In addition, this concert also contains some of Simon’s most rhythmic and lively singing.
Simon opens with his first solo hit, “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard.” This rendition doesn’t stray far from the 1972 version on Simon’s debut, although Gale adds a snappy six-string solo. Vocally, “Still Crazy After All These Years” leans toward disillusionment and light irony rather than the humor that has graced other readings (there is no turkey suit on this stage). On the outro, George Young showcases his polished, smooth tone during a memorable sax solo.
Simon follows with a four song mini-set from the One Trick Pony album. Fortunately, he begins with the undervalued but superb “Ace in the Hole,” funkified by Richard Tee’s pulpy keyboard work and soulful Billy Preston-esque duet vocals. This is a forgotten gem that needs to be rediscovered by pop/rock listeners. The post-divorce, acoustic “Something So Right” finds Simon in fine voice, but lacks Simon’s representative lyrical sharpness. The groove returns with an engaging, jazzy “One Trick Pony,” which swings with an easygoing gallop. Simon ends with the uneven, Biblically-themed “Jonah,” which carries a light jazz stance accentuated by J.D. Parran’s flute solo.
“50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “Late in the Evening” are obvious audience favorites which continue to show up during Simon’s stage presentations. While neither number deviates from what’s heard on Simon’s records, the horn section provides some sprightly punch.
The three-tune encore is a tangible highlight. Simon’s 1973 state of the union, “American Tune,” is sincerely outstanding and has lost none of its sentiment and sensibility. The protracted, thoughtful ballad “The Boxer” retains the main character’s quiet desperation, but misses some of the poignancy that Art Garfunkel helped furnish the 1970 studio version. Concert closer “The Sound of Silence” seems a bit sophomoric, but Simon gives the tune an astute solo voice/guitar rendering that emphasizes the haunting melody.
Strictly on a technical note, this disc is below average. The original VHS image was not cleaned up, so the quality is only passable and serviceable. Due to format limitations, the visual source material is tolerable at best. On the long shots the video looks unfocused and is only slightly sharper on close-ups, with video streaking seen when lights reflect off instruments. The sound quality, though, is top notch thanks to original audio producer Phil Ramone, who mixed the instruments and voices with his typical attention to detail.
TrackList: Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard; Still Crazy After All These Years; Ace in the Hole; Something So Right; One-Trick Pony; Jonah; 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover; Late in the Evening; American Tune; The Boxer; The Sound of Silence.
— Doug Simpson