The Late Movies: Paul Simon's Concert in Central Park, 21 Years Later

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Twenty-one years ago today, Paul Simon put on a massive concert in Central Park. The performance on August 15, 1991 focused on material from his albums Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints, plus an assortment of greatest hits of his previous work, including Simon & Garfunkel material...but without Garfunkel. The resulting double album has been required listening in my house for the following two+ decades. Of course, Simon's 1991 Concert in the Park wasn't his first Central Park blowout -- way back in 1981 he and Garfunkel did a reunion show that led to the album The Concert in Central Park. Confused yet? Good.

Tonight, let's take a look and listen to some notable moments from the 1991 performance. Although you often hear estimates of 600,000-750,000 people in attendance, recent reviews seem to debunk those figures, suggesting attendance on the lawn could have been only 100,000 tops. Oh well, it's still a huge concert.

"The Obvious Child"

The opening song in the concert, with a killer beat and some killer-diller vintage 1991 clothes. Simon's outfit has aged reasonably well, but I can't say the same about the trumpet player's green/orange/purple button-down shirt.

"You Can Call Me Al" With and Without Chevy Chase

First up, the version that appeared on the concert album, minus Chevy Chase (presumably due to a few vocal flubs -- Chevy has the tendency to do that to a man). Trivia: on the studio version, the bass solo's second half is actually a reversed tape of the first half...making it a tricky thing to play live. The live solo appears here at about 4:14 and is a masterful piece of bass work. Anyway, without Chevy:

And with Chevy (distinctly more awesome). I'm guessing this was an encore? Anyone at the concert remember how they got away with playing the same song twice?

"The Boxer"

Compare this with the Simon & Garfunkel version from 10 years earlier. I like this one much better, but your mileage may vary.

"Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"

The video quality here is a bit rough, but the soul comes through. "I mean everybody here would know exactly what I'm talking about!" (Crowd roars.)

"Bridge Over Troubled Water"

Simon attempts "Bridge" without Garfunkel. I think this works, but it's really not the same. Compare to the 1981 version featuring Garfunkel -- Art absolutely nails it, and it literally gives me chills.

"Graceland"

It holds up.

"Me & Julio Down By the Schoolyard"

The extra percussion really works on this one, as dusk falls over New York City. Interestingly, Simon completely messed up the whistling around 1:30 (you can see him grimace at his bandmates after the first flub); on the album proper whistling is overdubbed.

"The Sound of Silence"

"Hello darkness, my old friend." This track closes the show. Compare (if you dare) to a performance by Simon & Garfunkel in Madison Square Garden in 2009.

This is Not on DVD

This concert was never released on DVD, though VHS, Laserdisc, and audio-only versions are out there. A Facebook group wants to change that. Maybe enough Likes will change whatever contract is holding back this release?

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August 15, 2012 - 6:00pm
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