19 June 2018
We spent three quick days in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. Although Richard's brother no longer lives there. But we're familiar with the city, and when we heard that Paul Simon was touring the US this summer on his farewell tour, it seemed like a perfect place for us to go.
We were in Malaysia when we bought the concert tickets online, but we built this part of the summer around the concert date.
Just a short subway ride from our hotel - and the subway is free for Pennsylvania seniors, though the ticket agent took pity on us and waived (and waved) us through - then a bit of a walk to the Wells Fargo Center. This is an arena, or maybe a stadium - definitely built for sports. And giant concerts. The place holds about 19,500 people, depending on the event. Yeah, giant concert.
We managed to score front row seats in one of the club boxes - we had no idea what this meant, since we've never been to this venue. Basically, we were at the far end opposite the stage, but to the left. In one of those boxes with maybe 100 other people, but somewhat closed off from the rest of the huge crowd. With our own bar and snack counter, and bathrooms for just the 100 or so other people in our club box.
All of this is to set the stage for the concert. Because what we saw in person, and what we saw on the screen, were two very different things. This was one of those concerts where the musicians are about one-inch tall at that distance, and it would be hard to say exactly who was who. But on the screen, they were up close and personal and larger than life.
So, Paul Simon. Roughly 75 or so years old, but sounding amazingly the way he did back in the 1960s when he (and over half the audience) were young and in our prime. Paul looked older (as do we) and greyer (as do we), definitely with some wrinkles and perhaps a bit drawn about the face (yes to the wrinkles). Decidedly muscular arms for a short 75 year old, but perhaps all that guitar playing builds biceps.
But the music - ah, the music. Paul Simon has been accused of "borrowing" or lifting melodies from other musical traditions, such as the haunting South American "El Condor Pasa." But he also has an excellent ear, and many of his songs borrow traditions and harmonies and rhythms, but the music and lyrics are all his own. So "You Me and Julio" comes out of Kingston, Jamaica, without really being Jamaican. "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" comes out of Soweto, South Africa, without really being South African. So we took a tour of Paul's travels around the world, and heard many of his interpretations of cultures and their music, all in his warm and soothing and soaring voice.
It was a wonderful concert. There were explanations and introductions to songs. There was patter. There were backup musicians playing multiple instruments as well as singing harmony. One man sang a section in Khosa, with a series of clicks that I can't even describe, much less pronounce.
And all this while, Paul Simon, sometimes looking the way we remembered him, sometimes looking like a time-lapsed version of himself, but almost always sounding just like the Paul we listened to as we went through our teenage angst, rebellious years, defining ourselves, protesting the war, protesting the Establishment, and eventually growing up to be the people we find ourselves to be now.
The songs were a mix of new and old familiar favorites. Some were more electronic, some were the acoustic folk songs we grew up singing.
While Bob Dylan might be considered the Bard of our Times, especially having received the Nobel Prize for Literature, Paul Simon might come in a close second. Maybe a less serious and more playful Bard.
Definitely a part of the Soundtrack of our Times, though. Most definitely.