Barry Cleveland: Paul Simon Live at the Fillmore April 27, 2011

Paul Simon performed at the historic Fillmore last Wednesday.
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Simon performing "The Sound of Silence" solo during his first encore.

Paul Simon performed at the historic Fillmore last Wednesday. After quickly selling out large shows at Davies Symphony Hall and Oakland’s Fox Theater, Simon added this "club" date, as he has done in other large cities throughout his current tour. About 1.200 people attended the general admission event, and I easily found a spot about 30 feet from the stage, directly in front of Simon.

From the rousing opener "The Boy in the Bubble" to the fading strains of "Still Crazy After All These Years," Simon and company poured everything they had into their generously long performance.

Guitars played a huge roll in the band’s sound. Simon, an extraordinary player himself, mostly strummed quietly while other guitarists were featured more prominently in the mix—but when his playing was spotlighted, such as on the extraordinary solo arrangement of "The Sound of Silence" that led off the first of two encores, his fingerstyle mastery shone through.

Those other guitarists included Cameroonian Vincent Nguini and Mark Stewart. Nguini has appeared on every Simon album and tour since The Rhythm of the Saints, and he carried the African parts crafted by both himself and the late-great Ray Phiri (such as on "Truth") with stunning energy and accuracy. Stewart, who also played saxophone and recorder on some songs, is an extremely diverse player who transitioned from style to style, one moment playing heavily effected atmospherics, the next knocking out jazz-tinged pop lines, and the next digging into earthy roots riffs. But it was the interaction between the two guitarists that really knocked me out. Even when playing intricate parts within highly complex arrangements, they managed to interlock with nearly supernatural accuracy and sensitivity, never once choosing notes or tones that might interfere with what the other was playing.

Even drummer Jim Oblon picked up guitars on a few songs, laying down gutsy Travis-picked chords and melodies, and killing on slide.

The band also included bass phenomenon Bakithi Kumalo, percussionist Jamey Haddad, pianist Mick Rossi, saxophonist/keyboardist Andrew Snitzer, and multi-instrumentalist Tony Cedras.

The set showcased four strong songs from Simon’s latest release So Beautiful or So What, alongside favorites from throughout his career, and several covers, including a powerful reading of Jimmy Cliffs "Vietnam" and a breathtaking version of "Here Comes the Sun."

If you have a chance to see any of the remaining shows on this tour, don’t miss out. After all, Rhymin’ Simon is 69, and he won’t be doing this forever.