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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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ABBA Is Going on Tour—As Holograms
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Missed your chance to watch ABBA perform live at the peak of their popularity? You’re in luck: Fans will soon be able to see the group in concert in all their chart-topping, 1970s glory—or rather, they’ll be able to see their holograms. As Mashable reports, a virtual version of the Swedish pop band is getting ready to go on tour.

ABBA split up in 1982, and the band hasn't been on tour since. (Though they did get together for a surprise reunion performance in 2016.) All four members of ABBA are still alive, but apparently not up for reentering the concert circuit when they can earn money on a holographic tour from the comfort of their homes.

The musicians of ABBA have already had the necessary measurements taken to bring their digital selves to life. The final holograms will resemble the band in the late 1970s, with their images projected in front of physical performers. Part of the show will be played live, but the main vocals will be lifted from original ABBA records and recordings of their 1977 Australian tour.

ABBA won’t be the first musical act to perform via hologram. Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Dean Martin have all been revived using the technology, but this may be one of the first times computerized avatars are standing in for big-name performers who are still around. ABBA super-fans will find out if “SOS” still sounds as catchy from the mouths of holograms when the tour launches in 2019.

[h/t Mashable]

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6 Great (and Not-So-Great) Works of Art Made by Robots
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Cold, calculating, unfeeling—none of the stereotypes associated with robots seem to describe makers of great art. But that hasn’t stopped roboticists from trying to engineer the next Picasso in a lab. Some machines and algorithms are capable of crafting works impressive enough to fool even the toughest critics. As for the rest of the robot artists and writers out there, let’s just say they won’t have creative types fearing for their jobs anytime soon. 

1. A BEATLES-ESQUE POP SONG

If you heard the song above at a party or in a crowded store, you might assume it’s just a generic pop tune. But if you listened closer, you’d hear the dissonant vocals and nonsense lyrics that place this number in the sonic equivalent of the uncanny valley. “Daddy’s Car” was composed by an artificial intelligence system from the Sony CSL Research Laboratory. After analyzing sheet music from a variety of artists and genres, the AI generated the words, harmony, and melody for the song. A human composer chose the style (1960s Beatles-style pop) and did the producing and mixing, but other than that the music is all machine. It may not have topped the pop charts, but the song did give us the genius lyric: “Down on the ground, the rainbow led me to the sun.”

2. A NOVEL THAT MADE IT PAST THE FIRST ROUND OF A FICTION CONTEST

Will the next War and Peace be written by a complex computer algorithm? Probably not, but that isn’t to say that AI can’t compose some serviceable fiction with help from human minds. In 2016, a team of Japanese researchers invented a program and fed it the plot, characters, and general structure of an original story. They also wrote sentences for the system to choose from, so the content of the novel relied heavily on humans. But the final product and the work required to string the components together was made possible by AI. The researchers submitted the story to Japan's Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Contest where it made it past the first round of judging. Though one notable Japanese author praised the novel for its structure, he also said there were some character description issues holding it back.

3. A 'NEW' REMBRANDT PAINTING

Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

In 2016, a 3D printer did something extraordinary: It produced a brand new painting in the spirit of a long-dead artist. The piece, titled “The Next Rembrandt,” would fit right in at an exhibition of art from the 17th-century Dutch painter. But this work is entirely modern. Bas Korsten, creative director at the Amsterdam-based advertising firm J. Walter Thompson, had a computer program analyze 346 Rembrandt paintings over 18 months. Every element of the final image, from the age of the subject and the color of his clothes to the physical brushstrokes, is reminiscent of the artist’s distinct style. But while it’s good enough to fool the amateur art fan, it failed to hold up under scruntiny from Rembrandt experts.

4. DREARY LOVE POETRY

What do you get when you dump thousands of unpublished romance novels into an AI system? Some incredibly bleak poetry, as Google discovered in 2016. The purpose of the neural network was to connect two separate sentences from a book into one whole thought. The result gave us such existential gems as this excerpt:

"there is no one else in the world.
there is no one else in sight.
they were the only ones who mattered.
they were the only ones left.
he had to be with me.
she had to be with him.
i had to do this.
i wanted to kill him.
i started to cry."

To be fair, the algorithm was designed to construct natural-sounding sentences rather than write great verse. But that doesn’t stop the passages from sounding oddly poetic.

5. A CREEPY CHRISTMAS SONG

Christmas songs rely heavily on formulas and cliches, aka ideal neural network fodder. So you’d think that an AI program would be capable of whipping up a fairly decent holiday tune, but a project from the University of Toronto proved this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Their algorithm was prompted to compose the song above based on a digital image of a Christmas tree. From there it somehow came up with trippy lyrics like, “I’ve always been there for the rest of our lives.”

6. A CROWDSOURCED ABSTRACT PAINTING

Art made by a robot.
Instapainter

The image above was painted by the mechanical arm of a robot, but naming the true artist of the piece gets complicated. That’s because the robotic painter was controlled by multiple users on the internet. In 2015, the commissioned art service Instapainting invited the online community at Twitch to crowdsource a painting. The robot, following script commands over a 36-hour period, produced what looks like graffiti-inspired abstract art. More impressive than the painting itself was the fact that the machine was able to paint it at all. Instapainting founder Chris Chen told artnet, “It was a $250 machine slapped together with quickly written software, so running it for that long was an endurance test.”

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