Simon and Garfunkel less than ideal, but please crowd


December 16, 2003|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

WASHINGTON — Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Sun.

WASHINGTON - They have been friends for half a century.

Together, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel have created gorgeous music. Simon has written detailed lyrics that tell indelible stories about growing up, growing old, dissolutions and the many facets of love. The pair has broken up and reunited several times over the years. But at Sunday night's sold-out show at MCI Center, Simon and Garfunkel celebrated their legendary career with a brisk, no-frills rundown of their greatest hits.

No, the harmonies aren't as gossamer-light as they used to be. The same voices that rose like mist in the 1960s are a little creaky these days - particularly on the uptempo cuts, during which the stellar seven-piece band outshone (and almost overpowered) the singers.

The nearly two-hour show started with a film montage of childhood photos of the duo. They have known each other since sixth grade, when they met in a production of Alice in Wonderland. (Garfunkel was the Cheshire Cat and Simon the White Rabbit, as they dryly recounted during the show.)

Interspersed with archival clips of baseball games, civil rights marches and other period shots from the last 50 years, the film suggested how the times informed the music of Simon & Garfunkel and vice-versa. Afterward, the men hit the stage and received a thunderous standing ovation before easing into "Old Friends."

Simon's sparkling guitar bolstered the pair's shaky but pleasant harmonies.

It was during "A Hazy Shade of Winter" that they seemed overwhelmed by the powerful band.

Simon's deadpan face and distant vocals suited "I Am a Rock," an angst-laced look at relationships. In fact, the man never cracked anything close to a smile throughout the whole show. He strummed and picked his guitar, staring out at the crowd as if his mind were somewhere else, perhaps on a new melody, another show - who knows? His demeanor seemed to say, "OK. Business as usual."

Garfunkel was engaged throughout, though he was clearly straining on the uptempo cuts that required a little more power. But on "Scarborough Fair/Canticle," his aging tenor shimmered, backed by a cello, keyboards, Simon's melodic guitar and the tingle of a triangle. The duo's harmonies floated above the arrangement beautifully.

The biggest lull in the show was a rote performance by the Everly Brothers. The duo were clearly a vocal influence on Simon & Garfunkel, but the Everlys' material certainly isn't as timeless, as complex or as literate. They sang "Wake Up, Little Susie" and a weepy, sappy version of "Let It Be Me" to arrangements that veered uncomfortably close to nostalgia. "Mrs. Robinson," Simon & Garfunkel's hit from 1968's The Graduate, received a nice workout with a heavier groove and strong piano and organ solos.

Some folks in the crowd, which was mostly middle-aged, danced in the aisles. They didn't seem to care that the legends onstage weren't hitting the notes like they used to.

The music still enchants, and that's all that matters.

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