14 March 2007
Art Garfunkel doesn’t rock, as his onetime partner has said, but his voice is so sublime, it has healing qualities. We had dead centre front row seats for the show last night at Bournemouth Pavilion. Bizarrely, we had received a letter from the venue that morning (everyone did) reminding us that we MUST be seated before 7.30. Everyone was, and sat in silence for twenty minutes until it started, enlivened only by announcements that anyone wishing to go to the toilet must only do between songs. There were notices on the door saying “Loves, please do not open this door during the concert. It affects my concentration, Art.”
So Art is a tad obsessive about a quiet seated audience- similar happened after the interval. They didn’t restart until every seat was taken in the sold-out theatre.
The band was small, the arrangements sparse. It consisted of piano, synthesizer, guitar (mainly acoustic) and drums. The drummer sat on his hands for 50% of the evening, often being used for effect rather than rhythm. The acoustic guitar was swopped for electric about three times. As in 1996, no bass guitar, except for two spots – the “Sail on Silver Girl …” part of Bridge Over Troubled Water and the final Goodnight My Love. Instrumental highlights from four brilliant players were a long instrumental lead-in to If I Could and the encore Cecilia, with a long and –unusually- a worthwhile drum solo.
Art knows what works for him. He knows the songs that suit his voice, and he knows how to use arrangements that emphasize his soaring, flowing qualities, rather than rhythm. He keeps the songs short.
He admitted that everyone applauds more for Simon & Garfunkel songs, and only performed one song from his new “Some Enchanted Evening” CD of standards. I was surprised that he started off with American Tune, a Paul Simon solo number, but he did that on their tour a couple of years ago, and it suits him. He also did The Boxer, “on Paul’s advice.”
It is a privilege to sit right in front of that voice in a small hall. Though he admitted he still gets stage fright, he seemed way more relaxed, likeable and cheerful without Paul than he ever did with him – the same is true of Paul, so I guess these guys freeze each other up. Art was an unlikely rock star. He didn’t play, he didn’t write (his one composition last night was forgettable) but because his best friend was Paul Simon, and because he had that voice, he first had the teenage success as Tom & Jerry. Then he disappeared to become an architect. OK, he helped Paul out with Wednesday Morning 3.a.m, but it was not a serious attempt to be a musician. So folk rock happened, producer Tom Wilson overdubbed electrical instruments on Sounds of Silence without their knowledge, and they got phone calls telling them they had a Top Ten hit, and within weeks they’re headlining in stadiums. In many ways. Art’s whole life got hi-jacked.
The current show features plenty of Simon & Garfunkel (but no Mrs Robinson nor 59th Bridge Street Song), and has nods to Jimmy Webb and Randy Newman, who he said ranked with Stephen Sondheim, James Taylor, “and Paul Simon of course” … as the five greatest American songwriters. Randy Newman’s Real Emotional Girl was beautifully done. We were reminded that he’d had two number one solo singles in the UK, I Only Have Eyes For You and Bright Eyes. We got A Heart in New York. There was an early Paul Simon anti-war song “that we never recorded.” The thing is, I recognized it, so maybe Paul did on his own.
I went into the concert in a really bad mood after an annoying and frustrating day. I fumed a little at the wait in silence. I emerged two hours later in a wonderful mood, all the bad vibes swept away, humming (of all things) Bright Eyes. There was no post concert ear buzz after the quietest show I’ve seen in years. I got up still smiling this morning, and put on Art’s 1996 live “Across America” straight away.