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Live 1969 – Simon & Garfunkel

Columbia/Legacy

Back in 2003, I reviewed one of Simon & Garfunkel’s reunion concerts. With a major band in tow, it felt more like a Paul Simon concert with Art Garfunkel showing up for the duration. A brief set at the midway point by the Everly Brothers became the evening’s bonus. Even after all that I couldn’t get much past the pleasantness of the event. I knew it was a special moment, finding Paul sharing a stage again with Art again. But other than the nostalgic atmosphere, which is hard not to notice when surrounded by Baby Boomers, the show’s effect didn’t linger. I saw it as a situation where Simon gave in to the pleas of others, paid whatever debts he had around and put a down payment on a nice property somewhere in the Hamptons. For Art it was a chance to shine again.

I think of that pleasant’ sensation in comparison to how I feel now as I listen to Live 1969, a live document—first released exclusively via Starbucks in 2007—that pulls the best tracks from Simon & Garfunkel’s fall ’69 tour before the duo split up. The first time. Yes, you can complain it isn’t a complete show, but some edited bastardization of a performance. And, you’re right. It’s 17 songs recorded in six cities that, together, clock in at nearly 60 minutes. But, the label doesn’t pretend that it is, and it suffers not a misplaced note because of it. What Live 1969 offers is a riveting recreation of a moment in time, where one can sense Simon’s artistry moving beyond the confines of himself and his longtime friend, Art (“Why Don’t You Write Me”). At the same time it’s a recording that makes it understandable why he occasionally eases back into the warm glow of this musical partnership.

In a word, Live 1969 is stunning. Simon’s work on guitar is perfect, a mix of subtle complexity amidst folk/rock strumming. With Garfunkel’s sweet tenor (“For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”), the harmonies melt together. The recordings are pristine. Not only can the listener hear the plucking of individual strings as if sitting next to Simon onstage but the microphones even pick up the parting of lips and the slightest of inhales prior to singing. Much of this comes through the early portion of the disc when we’re treated to just two voices and an acoustic guitar as the duo run through versions of “Homeward Bound,” “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” “Song For the Asking” and “Scarborough Fair/Canticle.”

The audience understands the significance of what it is receiving and, other than brief applause at the beginning of numbers, they remain respectfully quiet and attentive. The two reward that unspoken contract between artist and audience. While the intimacy of those performances offer chills, it’s understandable that it could become a dead end. Starting with “Mrs. Robinson,” they are joined by a small back up band members of Hollywood’s infamous Wrecking crew—Hal Blaine (drums), Joe Osborn (bass) and Larry Knechtel (keys)—with Nashville’s Fred Carter Jr. (guitar). With these musicians around, it’s interesting that of all the Everly Brothers songs to cover they do a country-flavored number, “That Silver-Haired Daddy Of Mine,” a year after the Byrds paved the way with Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

For the final portion of the album, it’s back to the original stripped down core. The final five numbers become a reminder of the power created by just two musicians on a stage. It’s not nostalgia I’m feeling, but a sense of the inviting musical fire that Simon & Garfunkel once made. It’s a reminder of their relevance.

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