BY JON CRONIN
After 90 minutes of pouring rain, flashes of light and rumbling thunder, Paul Simon took the stage at Forest Hills Stadium last Friday for what may have been his last time performing in the U.S.
The crowd cheered when they heard the piano accordion introduction of the hopeful song “The Boy in the Bubble” that led into the cheerful break-up tune, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” He came out wearing an iridescent purple jacket and underneath a vintage looking blue Queens T-shirt.
Within the first few minutes of his performance it was evident, as many recently remarked, that he is an artist still in full command of his artistry.
Drenched to the bone, the audience felt nothing but love for the aging rock star who during one of the pauses in the evening’s downpour opened his arms and asked “How are you my rain soaked friends?” Acknowledging their long wait, he promised to play a few extra songs and didn’t disappoint.
The crowd kept it mellow. Eager to see their folk icon, no one seemed upset at the wait, only that it was sated. They got to see their man for the last time. Towards the front of the arena you could smell the wafting aroma of marijuana, which wafted a bit heavier when Simon sang, “I stepped outside to smoke myself a jay” during his rendition of “Late in the Evening.”
His fans were transfixed by their poet, who looking around had never experienced a world without Simon’s music.
Simon slipped in favorites spanning his 50 plus years performing, “The Obvious Child,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” “You Can Call Me Al,” the contemplative, “El Condor Pasa,” and “Duncan” from his first solo album.
The Forest Hills-native winked at the audience as he sang the line “a good day ain’t got no rain,” from “Slip Slidin’ Away.”
He joked with the Queens residents when he sang the lyric “Goodbye to Rosie the Queen of Corona,” then asked, “Is anybody here from Corona? Well get out of there!”
Like Simon and the lyrics he writes, his fans were there for the relationship they have to his song writing. It’s deeply personal. Songs like “An American Tune” or “Homeward Bound” reveal the heart of a man who can relate to a fan base’s world weary walk through an emotionally unrewarding daily grind.
As his last song of the night, Simon, who has conceded in the past that he wrote it for his long-time collaborator Art Garfunkel, sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
“I don’t usually sing this song,” he said, which he sang, as lightning still flashed in the background, with the empathy we hoped for after listening to his and Garfunkel’s studio recording for all these years.
In one of the evenings encores Simon sang “The Boxer,” after announcing his retirement, the crowd got communal goose bumps at the lyric, “I am leaving, I am leaving but the fighter still remains.” Speaking for the fans, we all hope the news of his retirement was the result of short-lived fatigue and that Simon, as a performing artist still remains.
Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JonathanSCronin