Simon provided a context for each song, varying from personal anecdotes about writing to reflections on a song’s meaning to stories about what happened after a record was released. It gave each song that much more depth and resonance — a method the likes of Eric Clapton, Paul Simon and R.E.M. would be wise to try.
Starting a cappella with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” a tune she recorded for Ken Burns’ “Baseball” docu, Simon was in great voice from the get-go.
Quickly turning through her own back pages –“Anticipation,””I Haven’t Got Time For the Pain”– Simon was remarkably assured; her well-known claim of stage fright almost seemed to be a ruse.
She bounced on Caribbean funk numbers and swung beautifully to the lilt of the Brazilian-flavored “No Secrets.” Songs mimicked the records — down to the piano trills — yet only once did anything approach the overblown nature of some of her ’80s work.
In the extremely hummable soft folk-rock setting of her music, the forthrightness of her lyrics has sometimes been lost. Simon tackled relationships and confrontation without the flowery imagery of her peers in the ’70s, and in the 16 songs she performed Monday, that earnestness paid off tenfold in showing how vital an artist she is in the American songwriting canon.
In 1971, when she was an opening act at venues such as the Troubadour, she exemplified how pop music could be stretched with the musically challenging “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be”– sadly, a song she didn’t perform Monday. By the time the decade ended, she had achieved a balance between sultriness and sophistication, a road-tested testament to intelligence that captured the lives of her audience. To twist a line from the chorus of “You’re So Vain,” we probably think this song is about us.
Simon closed the concert with old pal John Hall, whose Orleans opened the evening with a nine-song set packed with new songs released recently in Japan. Hall continues to write with a sincere and upbeat approach toward romance; the trio’s sweet harmonies and Hall’s pungent guitar work give the band a shot at rediscovery.