Simon And Garfunkel – The Concert In Central Park – Warner Brothers (1982)/ Sony Legacy 88875048741 (2015) – double stereo vinyl, TT: 75:51 *****:
(Paul Simon – guitar, vocals, arrangements; Art Garfunkel – vocals; Steve Gadd – drums; Grady Tate – drums; David Brown – guitar; Pete Carr – guitar; Anthony Jackson – bass; Richard Tee – keyboards; Rom Mounsey – synthesizer; John Gatchell – trumpet; John Eckert – trumpet; Dave Tofani – saxophone; Gerry Niewood – saxophone; David Matthews – arrangements)
When New York City decided to host a benefit concert in Central Park, there was only one choice for the headliner. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were quintessential New Yorkers and legitimate folk-rock superstars. Their early demise (after five successful studio recordings) was considered premature. So after some internal “negotiations” the duo agreed to perform in September of 1981. The concert was announced a month before, and expectations were astronomical. After three weeks of planning and rehearsal (which included an expanded band and solo material), Simon & Garfunkel were ready to go. Along with the high expectations were concerns about the less than amicable relationship.
The event took place on the Green Lawn. Mayor Ed Koch introduced them and they rolled into “Mrs. Robinson.” Throughout the twenty-one song set, the crowd was deliriously happy with the nostalgic reunion. All of the internal acrimony gave way to good music and a fun evening in New York. The concert was filmed by HBO, and a double album was released in 1982. While receiving mostly positive reviews, the duo was not overly enthusiastic about the set. But the public was supportive and put the album on the charts. Double platinum status was not enough to keep the duo together. Sony Legacy has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl double LP of the original album.
Side One opens with some funky guitar grooves. When the audience figures out that it’s “Mrs. Robinson”, they go crazy. This song is a cultural touchstone from the Bookends album and The Graduate soundtrack. While this version is rocked-up some, the trademark harmonies are intact. Next, the familiar strains of “Homeward Bound” emanate and another song for the ages is underway. The inherent melancholy and poetry are formidable. After a humorous Simon greeting (“…It’s great to do a neighborhood concert…”), another song from Bookends, “America” creates more intimacy as the duo sing lead together. It is another gem, detailing restlessness and the emotional final refrain is stirring.
Simon’s first solo offering, “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” employs a buoyant, latin-infused rhythm and amps up the crowd. Finishing the side is the achingly beautiful “Scarborough Fair”. This traditional English folk song is transformed by the pristine tenor of Art Garfunkel. The harmonies are extraordinary, and they soar on the third verse.
Side Two begins as a showcase for Garfunkel on “April Come She Will”. The ruminative opus (from Sounds Of Silence) has a lyrical elegance that is a perfect fit for the lilting vocal style. With simple guitar accompaniment, it is closest to a vintage Simon & Garfunkel performance. “Wake Up Little Susie” is an appropriate cover, since S & G is the only singing duo that comes close to the sublime Everly Brothers. The remainder of the side features solo Paul Simon material. “Still Crazy After All The Years” explores the contextual whimsy of Simon. But his songwriting and arranging have evolved, with jazzy chords and gospel horn shadings. In contrast, “American Tune” is as heartfelt as any of his earlier compositions. The addition of Garfunkel helping out on lead vocals is a treat. But as Simon handles the chorus, it is amazing how strong both of them are. When they harmonize on the last verse, it is uplifting. Simon assembled a talented band, and they get to cut loose on the salsa-driven “Late In The Evening” which has ample percussion and tempo.
The impact of Simon’s solo work is present at The Concert In Central Park. There is a distinctive, relaxed groove that is at the heart of “Slip Slidin’ Away”. His grasp of wordplay (…”You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip slidin’ away…”) is uncanny. Garfunkel doing the second verse is a nice touch. He gets a rare opportunity for a new song (“Heart Of New York”) from his upcoming album. This homage to New York City gets some enthusiastic cheers. With rockabilly flair, “Kodachrome is combined in a medley with Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline”. This is the longest track on the album and has the most expanded instrumentation. Paying tribute to pioneers like Chuck Berry never goes out of style. It may be impossible to identify Paul Simon’s masterpiece, but “Bridge Over Troubled Water” would suffice. Garfunkel bravely tackles this live, but it doesn’t quite have the plaintive aural finesse of the studio track.
A big concert requires a big finish. Simon showcases his rock star band leadership on the march-time “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover”. However, this crowd came to hear the essential Simon & Garfunkel catalog. And that’s what they get with the set-closing duet version of “The Boxer”. Even with a new verse, the chemistry of this illustrious pair is superlative. As they intone the wordless chorus, it feels reassuring. The encore (without the band) is breathtaking. The personal solitude of “Old Friends” manages to mitigate the cavernous outdoor acoustics with simplicity and warmth. “The 59th Street Bridge Song” remains playful and the vocalese counterpoint is stunning. Of course, Simon & Garfunkel finish with “Sounds Of Silence”, In the 1960s, this was a symbol of a disaffected youth culture. The close-knit harmony is special…nothing sounds like this!
The re-mastering Of The Concert In Central Park to 180-gram vinyl is excellent. The voices are captured with clarity and tonal richness. The stereo mix is balanced and the instrumentation is subtle, never in front of the vocals or Simon’s guitar. There is a booklet with lyrics and vintage photographs, and a downloadable card. There is some unavoidable crowd and speaker noise, but the magnitude of the event and extraordinary set list easily overcome any shortcomings.
Side One: Mrs. Robinson; Homeward Bound; America; Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard; Scarborough Fair
Side Two: April Come She Will; Wake Up Little Susie; Still Crazy After All These Years; American Tune; Late In The Evening
Side Three: Slip Slidin’ Away; A Heart In New York; Kodachrome/Maybelline; Bridge Over Troubled Water
Side Four: Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover; The Boxer: Old Friends; The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy); The Sounds Of Silence