- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

Simon & Garfunkel

Old Friends: Live on Stage

Warner Bros.

New product from Simon & Garfunkel: Better get it while there’s still an ampersand between the names of the principals.

As anyone who saw Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s reunion tour last year knows, the two harmonizers — who hadn’t spoken to each other in years, let alone performed together — weren’t exactly kissing cousins onstage. Their demeanor toward each other, while not quite frosty, was workmanlike.

Music journalist David Wild writes in the liner notes to “Old Friends: Live on Stage” that the tour was their “first and quite possibly last second coming.”

Mr. Simon, according to press reports, is back at work on a solo studio album with producer Brian Eno. So don’t expect more from Simon & Garfunkel the duo.

All the more reason to have this straightforward, unstinting document of Mr. Simon and Mr. Garfunkel on the road, in middle age, with strong voices and a perfunctorily jokey mood. (They don’t argue anymore; they “respect each other’s opinions.” Sounds chummy.)

“Old Friends,” a double-CD companion to a DVD of the same name, was culled from five shows on both sides of the Hudson River: at the Meadowlands in New Jersey and Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. The recordings are crystalline and well-balanced, with audience noise safely tucked away from the clarity of the soundboard.

The set supplies the duo’s most significant and successful songs: “I Am a Rock,” “The Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Boxer” and “Cecilia” among them.

Mr. Garfunkel, who physically towers over Mr. Simon — like the letter “f” to the letter “i,” to borrow a John Updike analogy — often towers over him vocally, too. He owns the elegiac “Kathy’s Song” and the mystical “Scarborough Fair” and closes out the duo’s signature song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with sustained authority.

Other treats include a highlight of the shows’ team-ups with opening act the Everly Brothers. The four singers mesh cheerfully on “Bye Bye Love,” the brothers’ classic hit from 1957.

Mr. Simon and Mr. Garfunkel hired an ace band for last year’s reunion, which included drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Pino Palladino, and guitarists Mark Stewart and Larry Saltzman. They extend “Homeward Bound” into an improvisatory, Grateful Dead-esque jam.

As an incentive to shell out money for a package that otherwise would be a keepsake, Simon & Garfunkel added a bonus recording of “Citizen of the Planet,” a demo Mr. Simon had intended for the duo to record but that instead collected dust for years until Mr. Garfunkel found it in his kitchen. (He would later add harmonizing vocals.)

The song’s sentiments, as the title indicates, are pious and well-meaning. The song itself is so-so.

Good thing about that disappearing ampersand. It’s hard to teach “old friends” new tricks. But no matter; the old tricks still sound great.

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