The early '80s were an interesting time in the career of Paul Simon. The past glories of hits with Simon & Garfunkel - along with his sizable solo charting - were behind. And he had yet to reinvent himself as a world music maven with 1986's fine Graceland. His 1980 album One-Trick Pony had yielded a hit with "Late in the Evening," but the semi-autobiographical film of the same name, in which Simon showcased his acting chops, was widely panned.
So this 1980 concert at Philadelphia's Tower Theater (which has already been previously released on DVD) finds Paul at the precipice. And musically, it was a good, loose place to be.
Never the most demonstrative of live performers, Simon is nonetheless in fine voice on the 11 numbers that survey his career to this point, in front of an appreciative Philly crowd. His soaring take on "Still Crazy After All These Years" is particularly fine, before the song had become the ubiquitous calling card for middle aged men facing mortality.
A lot of credit goes to Simon's crack backing band including the incomparable Steve Gadd (drums), tasty-lick reeling Eric Gale (guitar), Tony Levin (bass) and Richard Tee (piano), along with a full horn section. These players bring quite a bit of extra funk and spice to numbers like "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard," "Ace in the Hole" (featuring Tee's great co-vocals), and "One Trick Pony." Tee sings again on a buoyant "Late in the Evening."
If any material suffers, it's the extraneous "Jonah," and the set-closing Simon and Garfunkel two-fer "The Boxer" and "The Sound of Silence." Both latter songs lose their emotional impact in this performance, either because they're played as too easy-going, with tossed-off vocal lines, or - in the case of the "Sound" - missing that second harmony vocal.
Clocking in at 53 minutes, Live from Philadelphia may not contain that night's entire show, but it's a good (and inexpensive) time capsule for fans of Paul Simon before he packed his bags for South Africa and took his place as an elder statesman of American pop.
Eagle Vision, $9.98
Track listing: Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard Still Crazy After All These Years Ace in the Hole Something So Right One-Trick Pony Jonah 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover Late in the Evening American Tune The Boxer The Sound of Silence