LIKE A BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED DECADES….
If you’re my age, it’s a time machine. Songs like The Sound Of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water (bestselling album 1970,71 and 72) saw us through tempestuous teens and disastrous student passions, even more in some ways than the Beatles because there was something always jauntily cheerful about them (even Yesterday..). Few songwriters catch melancholy, muddled self- doubt laced with romantic wonder at life better than Paul Simon: in the folk-rock genre (always better when most folky) they swept the West; unbelievably, even the schlocky soundtrack of Mrs Robinson – heyheyhey! – knocked Hey Jude’s na-nanananaaaas off the No.1 spot.
So here, as Mr Simon finally hangs up his touring boots fifty years on , is a tribute show with Sam O”Hanlon as him and Charles Blythe as Art G , and a variety of instrumental ensembles and video backdrops of news, ads and cityscapes, to feed our nostalgia and demonstrate to the new generation the late sixties vibe. Which is, basically, agitprop-meets-playschool. Plaintive songs from Simon’s solo time in London merge into the astonishing line of hits which still startle in their poetic energy and inventive scoring.
The word ‘story’ is stretching it a bit: it is more tribute gig than theatre, unlike Jersey Boys or Million Dollar Quartet or any of the doomed-diva-drink-and-drugs genre. The story is mild: two nice middle class friends make music, go their separate ways for a bit, reunite, tour exhaustingly, hit Grammy success and separate again – piquantly, at the very moment their big album starts its three-year dominance. Garfunkel even went back to teaching high school math in 1970 for a bit. Can you imagine any of our boy-band lightweights doing that?
A series of captions in part 2 reminds us of their subsequent, less glittering achievements. But it’s hard to make theatre out of their lives, not least when they deliver the brief rather wooden narrative moments while still standing behind their mics so you can’t see their faces. The new generation may also find itself baffled by the all-too-faithful evocation of the pre-choreography age of rockers who only twitched the odd leg or snapped their fingers, preferring to concentrate on the actual singing. Even when they are “dadadadaaa daaa da da daaaa.. feeling GROOVEEEE” against a sort of teletubby frieze.
But musically it is a treat, from the opening growl of The Sound of Silence , through the gentle folksy love songs O”Hanlon does alone in the London scenes, to the complex harmonies and crypto-prophetic lyrics developing through the Bookends and Bridge albums. Blythe does Bridge over Troubled Water alone as an encore, displaying an amazing voice hitherto masked in the harmonies. In the first half genius burns – hardly one song less than brilliant – in the second I found it less likeable, but I suspect it depends at what stage in their career you used them as a soundtrack to those adolescent, face-down-on-the-futon, moments.
There was a lot of clapping along, which was fine. An odd retro evening, but agreeable. I hope the young adopt the best songs. O’Hanlon broke my heart in Cathy’s Song, just as the real Paul did…. long, long ago…
LONDON now, then touring UK through 2019
rating three as theatre, but hey, it’s a gig…