Simon & Garfunkel: The Concert in Central Park
When they came together onstage on after a cool, early-evening rain on September 19, 1981, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had not performed a full-length show together in more than a decade.
After a string of hits — many of which defined the 1960s — the duo, once best friends since their teens, split up. And except for an occasional live guest appearance or studio session, they remained apart. One of them had a little better solo career than the other; hint: it was the little guy who wrote all the songs.
But gazing out among an estimated 500,000 who had gathered for the free show in New York’s Central Park, that decade-plus seemed like a mere hiccup, as the seamlessly blended voices and – backed by a crack 11-piece band – sifted through both their shared and solo catalogues. They included tear-jerking love songs, funky bounces, a paean to the Yankee Clipper, and their take on a 19th-century English ballad.
The subsequent concert produced a double LP, was shown on HBO the following year and led to a successful world tour…before they broke up again (and got back together…and broke up...). This combo pack features the full show on DVD and CD (which omits two tracks) with remastered picture and sound.
The film was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, best known for helming the Beatles’ Let It Be film, along with many music videos for both the Fabs and the Rolling Stones. Though free to attend, the show was also a benefit for the then-newly created Central Park Conservancy Fund, with donations not coming from just corporations.
“The guys selling loose joints,” Simon joked, “Are giving the city half of their proceeds tonight!”
Both artists are in amazing voice (Simon also strumming acoustic and electric guitars), highlights include an aching “Homeward Bound” and “America,” the tonsil showcase “Scarborough Fair,” the epic “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (though Garfunkel’s voice comes in a few power notches shy of the prize), and a jaunty “Kodachrome” that leads into a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene.”
But the two most pleasant surprises are when the duo tackle Simon’s solo hits with a raucous “Late in the Evening” and “Slip Slidin’ Away.” The pair – especially Garfunkel – give a tantalizing view of what the track would have sounded like if it was an S&G tune. And “Slip Slidin’ Away” would have been better.
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Not as memorable are Garfunkel’s heartfelt – but dragging – “A Heart in New York,” a phoned-in “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover,” and a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie.” The Everlys were heroes of S&G, and even special guests on their “Old Friends” tour of the early 2000s. But on this version, the narrators sounded like blissed-out hippies not in a rush rather than a pair of teens about to face the wrath of their girlfriend’s daddy.
The show does have one truly scary moment, as shocking now as it was when I saw the original 1982 TV broadcast. At a quiet moment during a solo Simon’s new song “The Late Great Johnny Ace” – his tribute to John Lennon – a man jumps onstage and charges for Simon. Startled and looking genuinely frightened, Simon’s voice flutters and he steps back, right as a security guard lifts the man – who is yelling what sounds like “I gotta talk to him! I gotta talk to him!” offstage.
Simon picks up the song without interruption but, given that it was about a legendary rock singer who was murdered by a crazed fan less than a year before and a mile away from Central Park, it was a moment not lost on either performer or audience.
By the time the concert proper ends with a shimmering “The Sound of Silence,” are smiling and happy. That would not always be the case over the next near quarter-century as Simon and Garfunkel. would come together and apart. But for this one magic evening on “The Great Lawn,” all was forgiven between two Old Friends.