There was a point in my life where I confused Paul Simon with Elton John, and had no idea he was behind some of the popular older songs that I knew better than I was ready to admit. But then Chelsea came along and introduced me to his musical genius and timeless back catalogue, and I haven’t lost the appreciation since. So it was no wonder when I heard that he would be playing as part of an outdoor music festival in Hyde Park in London this summer, I jumped at the opportunity to buy tickets.
As you can see above, there were about 50,000 other people that had the same idea, and we weren’t terribly close to the stage. Although this was nice in the end, as we could sit and enjoy the music without feeling cramped or packed in with others.
The concert was billed as being a reunion tour of his album Graceland, one of his most famous and award-winning solo projects. Although it wasn’t really solo, he incorporated an eclectic blend of world sounds, especially those from South Africa.
What I didn’t know is that this wildly successful album was also caught in the middle of a political battle. I watched an interesting BBC documentary explaining that his album and collaboration with South African artists came at a very tense time for relations between other countries and South Africa. Apartheid was in full effect and racial tensions and political turmoil were very high. For many parties it seemed like a bad idea for the white Simon to break the rules and visit the mostly black artists. He claims that they just wanted to make music, and it wasn’t about color or political agenda. The documentary is well done, and worth a watch if you can.
Back to the concert. It was hyped as celebrating the 25th anniversary of the album, and I think he played the entire album. In fact, he was joined on stage by many of the original South African artists, like Ladysmith Black Mumbazo above. He was joined on stage by many other friends too, including the great Jimmy Cliff, and in all played for nearly 3 hours.
In addition to playing Graceland, which includes hits such as “Diamonds on the soles of her shoes” and “You can call me Al”, he played a number of other hits like the opening “Kodachrome” and “50 ways to leave your lover”. All of these songs sounded great, and the majority of the crowd was up dancing on the biggest of the hits. The best song of the show to me however was during one of his encores where he came out the stage alone with an acoustic guitar.
I knew what the song was going to be in the first few notes, and was immediately struck by a wave of emotion. Maybe it was the company I was with, or maybe it was the fact that this song in particular is one of his best and is pure poetry. I won’t be able to explain it, but I know that many other people experienced some goosebumps too. It might not make much sense in context of the short clip above, but after singing and dancing for 3 hours the crowd was nearly silent and just in appreciation of the moment. It still gets a little dusty in here every time I watch this actually, which is pretty powerful.
In the end, it was a fantastic concert full of highlights. I’m very glad that I got to see someone of Paul Simon’s talent do what he does best, and especially happy that I could share it with the person that made me appreciate him in the first place.