Simon shows he's still the 'One'

Somewhere in a burst of glory/ sound becomes a song/ I'm bound to tell a story/ that's where I belong," Paul Simon sang as he opened his concert in Boston recently.

The phrase sums up his new solo album "You're the One" (Warner Brothers), which Simon promoted on his 13-stop worldwide tour that culminated in his hometown of New York last weekend.

The album doesn't lead you to the music of South Africa, as does "Graceland" (1986), or Brazil, like "The Rhythm of the Saints" (1990). But his story-oriented songs are full of diaphanous guitar sounds and conversational lyrics that take you on a journey through love and human folly.

Dressed casually in all black with his now-trademark baseball cap (this time red), Simon distilled 40 years of musicmaking into a single show, captivating a sold-out, multigenerational crowd.

The concert magic attested to his revered place in pop history. His 2-1/2-hour program drew from his Simon & Garfunkel days of the 1960s with "I Am a Rock" and "Homeward Bound"; the '70s with "Kodachrome" and "Me And Julio Down by the Schoolyard" (which really got the crowd dancing); the '80s with "Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me Al"; and the present with seven new songs.

The audience seemed unfamiliar with the new material, but this didn't deter their enthusiasm, particularly for "Darling Lorraine," a musical and lyrical gem that tells the story of a marriage, and "Old," a whimsical history lesson where Simon mocks himself, but puts aging into perspective.

Although some instrumental arrangements were faithful to the original songs, nothing was left entirely alone. The changes were nuanced, like juicing up the slide guitar in "Graceland," or using a muted trombone to increase the jazz effect in "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover."

Simon didn't speak much, except to introduce his 11 backup musicians, who included three percussionists and well-known studio drummer Steve Gadd. Other Simon old-timers, Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini and South African bassist Bakhithi Khumalo, played alongside newer hotshot Mark Stewart, who moved effortlessly from guitar to mandolin, cello, and banjo.

Simon communicated a lot through body language, perhaps gleaned from his 1998 Broadway experience with his short-lived musical, "Capeman." He danced with balletic hand movements in the delicate new ballad "Love," which suggests that, despite our loneliness and panic at the prospect of abandonment, love is "free as air/ like plants, the medicine is everywhere."

Another new song, "The Teacher," prompted charade-like gestures to disseminate a cautionary message about following demagogues. And finally, he clasped his hands and bowed to the insatiable crowd, who called him back for four encores.

"Where'd he go?/ I don't know/ well he was here a minute ago," Simon puckishly asked in his encore, "Pigs, Sheep And Wolves." In interviews, he has said such lingo was inspired by hide-and-seek games he plays with Gabriel, the youngest of his three children with singer Edie Brickell, whom he married in 1992.

The song's message is a serious allegory about capital punishment. But the accordion and Dobro give it a playful feel, along with guitar-bass-percussion arrangements, which also dominate the rest of the new album. Keyboards, strings, and wind instruments add texture to the other new songs.

Simon's latest addition to his large mix of wry tales and catchy tunes further define this songwriter, who has endured and evolved: He's still going strong after all these years.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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