Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, Colorado
June 28, 2017
In what is becoming a depressing tradition of bands bypassing Houston for friendlier (in summer) environs, last week your intrepid Houston Press writer found himself traveling to Morrison, Colorado, to see Paul Simon at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, courtesy of the fine folks at our sister publication, Denver's Westword (for reference, Simon hasn't played Texas since 2016, and was last in Houston with Sting in 2014).
Before going any further, let me just say if you ever have the opportunity to see a show at Red Rocks, do so. In the words of Ferris Bueller, it is so choice. Situated some ten miles west of Denver, the venue rests between two sandstone monoliths and holds only around 9,500 people, so even the upper GA seats are pretty decent. Fair warning: If you're from Houston, a city so flat that it floods seemingly every other week, gird your loins. We parked on the road below the amphitheater, and the hike up to our seats was a formidable one.
Simon took the stage a little before sundown (there was no opening act), launching into what would be a career-spanning retrospective covering everything from his '60s catalog with Art Garfunkel to his most recent releases, So Beautiful or So What and 2016's Stranger to Stranger.
Clad in jeans, a T-shirt and what looked like a Members Only jacket, Simon was accompanied by longtime associates, including Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, bassist Bakithi Kumalo (most recognizable for the lick in "You Can Call Me Al"), keyboardist Mick Rossi, percussionist Jamey Haddad and a host of others, and the set was loose in the effortless way you only get with world-class musicians who've played together for years, even if the extended jam on "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" seemed like more of a sop to the Widespread Panic fans in the audience.
The newer numbers weren't as well-received, but then they never are (see also: every other artist with a career spanning more than two decades). It's a little disappointing that Stranger to Stranger, which was released to widespread acclaim, only warranted two entries in the set list (the title cut and "Wristband"), but for better or worse, there's always the expectation of a greatest-hits set when an artist as venerable as Simon takes the stage.
Fortunately for us, there's a literal embarrassment of riches when it comes to Simon. Graceland and its followup The Rhythm of the Saints were heavily featured, with the latter's batucada-influenced numbers pumping up the crowd. He also threw in several "& Garfunkel" tunes ("America," "The Boxer" and "El Condor Pasa" among them), and sprinkled in a few older solo cuts showcasing Simon's early global musical influence ("Mother and Child Reunion," "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard").
Simon also took the time to comment on the current political climate. That may seem like a no-brainer to anyone barraged with early-morning Presidential tweets every day, but it's not the norm for Simon. And while he didn't mention Trump by name, he did comment on the destructive nature of anger: "It's addictive, and we are becoming a nation of addicts."
But as the skies darkened, and lightning lit up the area to the east, Simon returned to the hopefulness that has always been present, even in his darker tunes. As an intro to the first song in his second encore, "Questions for the Angels," he said, "I believe in the future." And while it may be a blasé sentiment for a guy who'll be celebrating his 76th birthday this year, judging by the voices lifted up to sing "Hear my words that I might teach you" from closing number "The Sound of Silence," he's not alone.
Personal Bias: Never seen Paul Simon live, and going to a show at this particular arena has been something I've wanted to do since our (possibly hung over) ninth-grade English teacher played the entirety of U2's Under a Blood Red Sky videotape during class one day.
The Crowd: Younger than expected, and annoyingly fit.
Overheard In the Crowd: I didn't really overhear anything of note, or if I did it's been forgotten thanks to the heroic amounts of legal weed being smoked all around me.
Random Notebook Dump: "I can literally see my car from up here."
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The Boy in the Bubble
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
That Was Your Mother
My Little Town
Mother and Child Reunion
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
The Obvious Child
Stranger to Stranger
El Condor Pasa (If I Could)
The Cool, Cool River
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
You Can Call Me Al
Still Crazy After All These Years
Questions for the Angels
Late in the Evening
The Sound of Silence