Paul Simon, one of the pillars of American music, said so long to the Twin Cities on Friday at Xcel Energy Center as part of his farewell tour. Here are 15 Ways to Leave Your Followers.
1. Simon bookended his concert by opening with Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” from 1968 and encoring with his own “American Tune” from ’73. Although this great American songwriter is known more for songs of introspection than political commentary, both tunes about the American dream — and immigrants — resonate as loudly today as when they were recorded.
2. After the jaunty “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” the usually self-serious Simon joked about what does “final” mean. He said he’s excited to see “what opens up.”
3. This generous, musically rewarding and crowd-pleasing show was not a take-a-bow victory lap with rote recreations of greatest hits. He even dusted off some obscurities including 1983’s “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War” and “Can’t Run But.”
4. Unlike his peer Bob Dylan, Simon re-imagines his oldies so they are recognizable yet musically intriguing. For example, he recast the folk-cum-orchestral “The Boxer” as a Nashville shuffle.
5. The smart set list showed Simon’s consistency throughout the years — four tunes from the 1960s, six from the ’70s, six from the ’80s, four from the ’90s and four from the ’10s.
6. Yes, he’s still vital after all these years, still writing compelling music. “Wristband” from 2016 came across as a humorous ditty about backstage access, but it’s really about inclusion. And 2011’s “Questions for the Angels,” about homelessness, was probably as pretty and poignant as anything he’s written.
7. Simon still challenges himself with new collaborators. New to his touring band were yMusic, a chamber string/winds sextet, and Nigerian guitarist Biodun Kuti, who replaced longtime Cameroonian sideman Vincent Nguini, who died in December.
8. Simon’s concert was like a travelogue, taking 14,000 fans to Africa, Brazil, Jamaica, Cuba, New Orleans, Memphis and New York, visiting Greenwich Village and the Brill Building. He covered Afropop, reggae, jazz, zydeco, soft-rock and folk, among other styles.
9. This wide-ranging repertoire reminded us how Simon could be cerebral and catchy. How incessantly infectious are “Kodachrome” and “You Can Call Me Al”?
10. Even though he was wearing the same sport jacket and played a somewhat similar set list as two years ago at the Orpheum in Minneapolis, this show was different. He was more talkative, sharing stories about songs; he offered big screen video close-ups, and yMusic added new textures, tones and female backup vocals.
11. Simon always has an outstanding band, and he lets the players shine. Among the stand-out solos were Andy Snitzer’s expansive saxophone on “Still Crazy After All These Years” and Mick Rossi’s free-jazz keyboard excursion on “The Cool, Cool River.”
12. Despite Simon’s indelible work with Simon & Garfunkel, the 140-minute concert left no doubt that his masterpiece is 1986’s “Graceland” album. He offered five tunes from that Grammy-winning jewel on Friday.
13. The Simon & Garfunkel tunes came at the beginning and the end. He didn’t do “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (maybe that’s a vocal that belongs to Art Garfunkel) or “Mrs. Robinson.” But “The Boxer” was sad in its solitariness and “Homeward Bound” was mesmerizing in its minimalism.
14. He fittingly closed with a slow, solemn “The Sound of Silence,” rendering S&G’s first hit by himself on acoustic guitar.
15. Simon’s Homeward Bound– The Farewell Tour is his goodbye to the road. He might do an occasional show, and his souvenir concert program mentions a new project, “In the Blue Light,” in September, when the tour ends, right before Simon’s 77th birthday.
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719