This August marks the thirtieth anniversary of Graceland, Paul Simon’s landmark, multi-platinum-selling, Grammy-award-winning album, an inspired and innovative patchwork quilt of world music styles recorded with talent like the Everly Brothers, Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt, and several South African recording artists including the Boyoyo Boys Band and The Gaza Sisters, whom he’d met during a trip to Johannesburg with longtime friend and producer Roy Halee.
Without fanfare or announcement about the occasion, Simon leaned heavily on that material during last Saturday’s sold-out show at the Mann Music Center. His two-dozen song set featured half of that record, opening with “The Boy In The Bubble” and landing on “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” and the enduring “You Can Call Me Al” before his encore break.
If Simon were touring to support his first studio album in five years, released only a couple weeks ago, Stranger To Stranger seemed somewhat underrepresented, with a few singles featured. He passed, too, on the bulk of his towering catalog of 60’s hits recorded with Art Garfunkel, save just a select handful of crowd-pleasers like “Homeward Bound,” “The Boxer,” and “Sounds Of Silence,” the latter two poignantly performed in a second encore, and he teased contemporary fans with an instrumental intro for “El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could),” a cover of a Peruvian song from the early 20th century released in 1970 as a B-side to one of the duo’s last hit singles.
Instead, the troubadour seemed to have made a point to spotlight in his set very specific solo work throughout the evening. Backed by an ensemble crew of versatile multi-instrumentalists, Simon rendered cuts of cherry-picked material, curated with care from There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, 1990’s The Rhythm Of The Saints, So Beautiful or So What, from his 1972 self-titled record, and a trio of classics off of 1975’s Still Crazy After All These Years.
Simon seemed to play straight-faced, mostly, and largely offered songs over stage banter. Still, he paused at times to fashion short, measured anecdotes as context for compositions, or to briefly elegize the effects of the “march of time,” a motif that that figures prominently — even heavy-handedly — into the lyrics of his latest work. No small amount of time it’s been: the 74-year-old folk-rock icon has enjoyed a storied five-decade career with music that forged and bent genres, captured zeitgeists, and defined generations. And as he played some of that music to devoted fans of fifty years on, in some cases, it would have been encouraging for him to have gotten to see up on the lawn of the open pavilion the obvious adoration for it that those fans have clearly imbued in their children, also present, singing and dancing along late in the evening under a cool Philadelphia Summer night.
The Boy in the Bubble
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
That Was Your Mother
Honky Tonk (Bill Doggett cover)
Slip Slidin’ Away
Mother and Child Reunion
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
The Obvious Child
Stranger to Stranger
El Condor Pasa (If I Could)
The Cool, Cool River
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
You Can Call Me Al
I Know What I Know
Still Crazy After All These Years
Late in the Evening
One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor
The Sound of Silence