Paul Simon at the Minneapolis Convention Center, 5/2/11

Paul Simon
May 2, 2011
Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis

For fans of Paul Simon, Monday night's show at the Minneapolis Convention Center couldn't have been more satiating. The man knows how to put on a show, and delivered a two-hour set that expertly wove new songs alongside old for the near-capacity auditorium.

Going into the show, I was curious what the sound ambiance would be like at the MCC. There was some nervousness that the location would be too vast and sterile to provide an iota of intimacy, and that fact that I was seated in one of the back "pods" or removable balconies didn't help much with that aspect of the experience -- my section was removed from the main portion of the floor, and when the audience stood to dance along to the music our section sat serenely, as if watching a movie -- but judging from the reactions on the main part of the floor, the rest of the crowd was feeling the vibe just fine. And the sound was mixed extremely well, with every lyric coming across crystal clear and all eight members of Simon's backing band easily audible.

Simon managed to work a handful of tracks off of So Beautiful or So What into the set relatively early, sprinkling them between crowd favorites like "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and "Slip Slidin' Away." It didn't take him long to get political, either, if only briefly; only three songs in, he paused to reflect on last night's news about Osama bin Laden. "I'm from New York," he said. "It's been a 10 year wait for a sense of justice" -- and with that, he had the audience on their feet for the first of what would be many standing ovations throughout the night.

Paul Simon at the Minneapolis Convention Center, 5/2/11
Paul Simon at the Minneapolis Convention Center, 5/2/11
Photos by Steve Cohen

​For the most part, Simon carried on at a fast clip, letting the music do most of the talking for him. By mid-set, he was pulling out old favorites from across his catalog, from "Peace Like a River" and "The Obvious Child" to a stunning and spare rendition of "The Only Living Boy in New York," which seemed to calm and mesmerize the sometimes boisterous crowd.

The percussion section was firing on all cylinders by the end of the first set, and anyone still sitting was brought to their feet with "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," which inspired a full-room sing-along and led into the rollicking "Gumboots."

For the first encore, Simon returned to the stage alone and stood beneath a single spotlight, strumming his guitar passively and working his way into the opening strains of "The Sound of Silence." "Oh my god," a woman near me sighed at the recognition of the first few notes, and the entire auditorium remained hushed as Simon sang what is normally a duet all by himself. It was at this point that you could hear Simon's voice the best, uninterrupted by the maelstrom of the talented musicians he hires to play behind him, and it sounded just as delicate, poignant, and disarming as it did when he first recorded the song with Art Garfunkel back in 1964.

After a joyous performance of "Kodachrome," Simon gave us another sweet treat: A cover of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," which was about the kindest gift he could have given to a room full of frozen-to-the-bones Minnesotans still waiting for spring to show its face. After each line like "It's been a long, cold lonely winter" and "I feel that ice is slowly melting," the crowd would roar back in appreciation, then fall silent to listen to the next verse.

By the end of the show, gratitude was coursing through the venue. As Simon came back for a second encore and started into the first line of "Still Crazy After All These Years," you could practically feel the room sighing in unison. A man near me stood bolt upright and screamed a throaty, course final salute: "THANK. YOU. PAUL!"

Paul Simon at the Minneapolis Convention Center, 5/2/11
Paul Simon at the Minneapolis Convention Center, 5/2/11
Paul Simon at the Minneapolis Convention Center, 5/2/11
Photos by Steve Cohen

Personal bias: Graceland was my favorite tape when I was a kid, and reminds me of riding in my parents' car. In fact, many of these songs remind me of my mom (who was with me at the show, happy birthday Mom!) and dad, who would filled the house with the sounds of Paul Simon records throughout my childhood.
The crowd: Exactly what you would expect at a Paul Simon concert at the Convention Center. Exactly. Oh, and the booze was flowing freely, so there was lots of awkward dancing.
Overheard in the crowd: "He's dancing to the beat of his own drummer." -- My mom, watching one of the more animated revelers get down in the aisle.
Random notebook dump: Those lucky enough to nab a ticket for Simon's show tomorrow night at First Avenue are in for a real treat.

Set list:

Crazy Love, Vol. II
Dazzling Blue
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
So Beautiful or So What
Slip Slidin' Away
Vietnam (Jimmy Cliff)
Mother and Child Reunion
That Was Your Mother
Hearts and Bones
Train in the Distance
Questions for the Angels
Peace Like a River
The Obvious Child
The Only Living Boy in New York
Love is Eternal Sacred Light
Father and Daughter
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

Encore #1
The Sound of Silence
Here Comes the Sun (George Harrison)
Late in the Evening

Encore #2
Still Crazy After All These Years

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