Spiritual Grooves

Paul Simon

Auditorium Theatre - Chicago

November 24, 2000

First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2001, Volume 8, #2

Written by John Metzger

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Paul Simon is a perfectionist, and he no doubt drags his band through countless hours of rehearsal in preparation for a tour. One might question whether this is indeed a good idea, but an examination of his songs reveals that as his career has progressed, his songs have become elaborate and intricate compositions. In fact, Simon's songs and arrangements are so complex that they require vigorous rehearsal simply to get them right. Each sound has its proper place, and they work together to create an atmosphere that majestically magnifies each lyrical phrase.

With so much preparation, Simon and his band are unquestionably polished, but this also can yield a sterility that becomes difficult for a group to shake especially as a tour winds on and the same songs are performed night after night. At first, it appeared as if this was exactly the effect that such preparation would have on Simon's November 24 performance at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. Rattling through a pre-scribed series of songs, Simon barely paused between selections for a moment of reflection. That's Where I Belong lacked the energy or familiarity necessary for a lead-off song, and the slow blues of One Man's Ceiling is Another Man's Floor deflated the drive built by Graceland. These are great songs, of course, but the audience just didn't seem to connect with them.

Nevertheless, Simon's music has a way of wearing one down and getting under the skin. This is particularly true of the rhythmic excursions written during the latter part of his career, though with the help of a fiery percussion section even older fare such as the Latin-fueled Late in the Evening became exultant, celebratory cadences. As the show progressed, the crowd gradually succumbed to their rhythms, and by the time the band broke into a dynamic pairing of Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes and You Can Call Me Al, even the most fickle fan couldn't resist the mesmerizing grooves and was inspired to dance. This in turn ignited Simon's own passion for his songs, saving the concert from becoming a mechanical exercise.

Simon is at heart a poet, and he used his gift to build connections between his songs. The aging of a relationship was joined with the aging of the songwriter on Darling Lorraine and Old, respectively. You're the One examined the fleeting nature of love and 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover provided the excuse to walk away from it. The Teacher and Spirit Voices were filled with a supernatural presence. And the second encore, which paired Pigs, Sheep, and Wolves with an extended rendition of Mrs. Robinson made for a political commentary on the Florida election.

Fortunately, the acoustics in the Auditorium Theatre are so precisely perfect, it was a simple matter to hang on Simon's every word. Likewise, every nuance in the music every brush stroke on a snare drum, every bell chime, every cymbal crash, every subtle ripple of bass was easily discernable. One simply couldn't find a better venue in which to witness such a meticulous artist paint his aural portraits of percussive orchestrations and spiritual grooves.

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Copyright 2000 The Music Box