Paul Simon: Homeward Bound - The Farewell Tour – BST, Hyde Park

Paul Simon

Paul Simon - Credit: Archant

Greg Wetherall heads to Hyde Park to watch Paul Simon on his ‘Farewell Tour’

The perils of the outdoor gig. Chattering masses mixing with hushed, reverent devotees. Luckily, despite the best efforts of the former, chitter chatter failed to mar the splendid entertainment presented by Paul Simon and his band in what has been coined as his ‘Farewell Tour’.

Taking to the stage sans fanfare resplendent simply in a mauve t shirt and donning sunglasses to protect his eyes from the scorching, leering sun, he wasted no time in etching out the comforting chords of his former guise Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’. The warm embrace of its familiar melody was already enough to usher tears to the eyes.

What followed was a two-and-a-half-hour amble through one of the great American songbooks. A songbook that has always been imbued with the outward looking ethos and the cross-pollination of cultures that stands testament to the most American of values. From the apartheid-defying, Afrobeat licks of Graceland to the pan-continent, melting pot of sounds that propelled 2016’s Stranger to Stranger, it was all brought compellingly to life.

‘It’s been a real privilege, but most of my life has been that way, so thank you’, Simon said warmly to his gargantuan crowd. Digging into the nooks and crannies of his whole career, this was a time to cast out the reggae groove of early solo hit ‘Mother and Child Reunion’, dispatch the all-conquering ‘You Can Call Me Al’, deliver a spellbinding ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’ and, in his words, ‘reclaim my baby’, by presenting a stunning ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. Surprisingly, despite lacking widespread recognition or familiarity, the propulsive ‘Wristband’ fared well too.

With such a comprehensive overview, perhaps it was inevitable - even with someone such as Simon – that a mid-show lull would rear its head. After all, he was also saying goodbye to the performance of his songs and evidently wanted to veer off the ubiquitous peaks from time to time and into more niche terrain. It bore all the hallmarks of a set that has remained unchanged from the cosier indoor gigs on this valedictory lap. It is surprising that a seasoned pro such as he failed to anticipate that such a sculpted set might not translate seamlessly across a field of sun-lashed and broadly inebriated punters. But, boy, did he rally for the final third.

Tempo and styles shifted constantly, as one hit followed another. As matters drew to a close, it was all rather aptly stripped back; harking back mistily-eyed to his folky beginnings. Alone, out front, facing the crowd and bathed in a simple stage light, he plucked the delicate melody of ‘The Boxer’. A mass singalong accompanied the coda, before ‘American Tune’ seemed to ring pertinently as a cry for engagement (political and otherwise) to the next generation and beyond.

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In the end – at the very end – ‘The Sound of Silence’ was observed by, well, a reverent wall of silence. No discernible chattering. Just respect and awe. This is what Simon deserved. A fond, emotional farewell to one of the all-time masters. A talent worthy to be chiselled upon any metaphorical Mount Rushmore of popular song. So long, Paul Frederick Simon. And thank you. You will be greatly missed.