Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are as tied to New York’s Central Park as any performers in popular culture — so it’s fitting that their songs would be chosen as a soundtrack to the silver anniversary of the popular Summerstage series that has grown into one of Gotham’s most important musical programs. While both men were in attendance at this sprawling event, neither took part in the performance, leaving the interpretations to a multigenerational group that approached the material with varying degrees of transformative intent.
The show had more than its share of tender moments — Loudon Wainwright III and daughter Lucy Roche slow-dancing their way through “Bleecker Street” and Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips preceding a delicate “Homeward Bound” to Phillips’ father, who gave music lessons to a young Simon.
Interspersed among these were a passel of performances by folks who took a more aggressive approach, notably the Holmes Brothers, who sexed up “Mrs. Robinson” as “an ode to cougar love” and the always-intriguing St. Vincent, who brought her trademark blend of winsomeness and dissonance to “Fakin’ It.”
Most of the program was given over to duets by sympathetically joined performers, and the results sometimes erred on the side of easy listening. But a few of the pairings generated more than a little sizzle. Shawn Colvin and Paula Cole brought an unexpected urgency to “America,” while grizzled vets Willie Nile and Alejandro Escovedo — neither a stranger to sonic brawls — gave “The Boxer” an appropriate dose of adrenaline.
And while the majority of the tunes aired over the course of the two-hour show were immediately recognizable — and, judging by audience response, eminently sing-along worthy — the sprinkling of obscurities proved just as rewarding, particularly a set opening “We Got a Groovy Thing Going On,” delivered with abundant charm by Dar Williams and Stephen Kellogg. The tone they set — one of no-strings-attached contentment — lingered throughout the evening, giving off an easy-on-the-senses glow that continued through the night.