April 4th, 1991 was my first time seeing the great, great Paul Simon. The show was relatively small, taking place in the 9,000 seat Ottawa Civic Centre just a short stroll from Carleton University’s campus where I was living in one of the school’s residence buildings.
The show was fantastic start-to-finish. I think it was the first time I had been to one of those “An evening with…” shows that have no opening act so there was lots of time for lots of great music and though Paul Simon was touring his Rhythm Of The Saints album he was still using that great band he put together for the Graceland album; the show was all just so very good.
It turns out Paul Simon is a fine, fine musician himself, tackling intricate guitar parts without a thought while singing the smoothest melodies over top like it was the easiest thing in the world. And what a catalogue of material he has to draw upon! So yeah, great show.
All that aside, there are two things that instantly jump to the front of my brain whenever I think of this concert. First, this was probably the first time I had seen a single act that cost more than $20. I remember ranting and reeling at the $36.50 face value of this ticket. Oh how times have changed.
Second, one of my favourite moments in my live musical history happened in the middle of this concert. Paul Simon had just finished leading his stellar band through his recent smash hit You Can Call Me Al – the horn section, the South African rhythms, that wicked four-second bass solo – the crowd was going nuts as the last note faded into manic applause. And then Paul Simon turned to his band and counted them in…
…and they played You Can Call Me Al again. In it’s entirety. Starting the song off with the energy of the song’s end, they gave us the horn parts again, they played that African rhythm again, we got to hear that delicious four-second bass solo all over again…Paul Simon played what was currently his biggest hit song twice in a row without a word of explanation and it was amazing. Somehow it was just so awesomely perfect, and it was a rock and roll moment that I will never, ever forget.
Funny, when I saw Gowan do a similar thing with with his hit song Strange Animal years before it was completely lame. But then I shouldn’t go comparing Larry Gowan to Paul Simon.
That wouldn’t be at all fair.