Simon & Garfunkel
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2008, Volume 15, #3
Written by John Metzger
Wed March 26, 2008, 12:15 PM CDT
Recorded for a concert album that took nearly 40 years to come to fruition, the tracks on Live 1969 provide a glimpse of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel at a critical juncture in their careers. The duo had just completed work on Bridge over Troubled Water. With a slew of new songs in their arsenal, they embarked upon a month-long tour that was designed specifically to preview what would become known as their final studio endeavor. Cobbled together from material that was performed over the course of six nights from this sojourn, Live 1969 stands as a cohesive and unique statement. Although the outing is more musically ramshackle than anything else in Simon & Garfunkel’s canon, it also is an important historical artifact that provides a crucial component that was missing from their existing audio portrait.
Finding themselves playing to larger and larger crowds and having constructed more intricate arrangements for their songs, Simon & Garfunkel abandoned, at least in part, the stripped-down, acoustic framework for their shows. Consequently, the concerts that are featured on Live 1969 represented a growing restlessness that was marked as much by the duo’s stylistic shift as it was by the closing of an era. With the help of a backing band that was composed of guitarist Fred Carter, Jr., drummer Hal Blaine, bass player Joe Osborn, and keyboardist Larry Knechtel, Simon & Garfunkel put extra weight behind tunes like Mrs. Robinson and I Am a Rock. Likewise, they unveiled their newer material — including Why Don’t You Write Me and The Boxer — in ways that closely approximated what they had created in the studio.
In effect, the additional musicians allowed Simon & Garfunkel to shade their work with a broader range of colors and textures. Nevertheless, Simon doesn’t appear to have been nearly as meticulous about scripting parts for his accomplices to play as he was in the studio or, for that matter, on any of the duo’s infrequent return engagements. Fueled by the enthusiasm that they had for their forthcoming album as well as the raw, off-the-cuff quality of their backing band’s support, there is a sharp contrast among the concert’s amplified and acoustic segments. Regardless, these tunes — from Bridge over Troubled Water’s title track, with its gracefully majestic, hymn-like, and immediately recognizable introduction, to the gentle, bossa nova-flavored groove of So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright — have become so iconic over the years that it also is nearly impossible to imagine what it must have been like to hear them revealed for the very first time.
Despite the size of the venues in which they were forced to play as well as the impending dissolution of their working relationship, Simon & Garfunkel remained capable of using their unfathomably intuitive chemistry to create a wonderfully intimate space for their work. Garfunkel’s vocal track on the studio rendition of For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, for example, is one of the most beautiful and touching moments ever captured on tape. Time and again, though, he proved himself to be equally adept at conjuring the same level of emotion on stage. Similarly, the fragility of a song like Scarborough Fair/Canticle ought not to succeed outside a coffeehouse or small club, yet the rendition that Simon & Garfunkel offered in concert often was stunningly perfect.
In the end, Live 1969 might not be for everyone. As fans might expect, Simon & Garfunkel’s music largely adhered to a familiar format. The main attractions, then, are the immediacy of Simon’s melodies, the cerebral poetry of his lyrics, and the way in which he and Garfunkel were able to intertwine their voices without seeming to have made much effort at all. The result was a brilliantly magnificent harmonic convergence of sorrowful yearning and romantic optimism that brought their songs to life both in the studio and on stage. Live 1969 is a powerful and magical endeavor, and it is as wonderful an introduction to Simon & Garfunkel’s cache of songs as it is a fitting conclusion to their journey together. ½
Of Further Interest...
Live 1969 is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box