- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

The Beatles never came back. The Stones never went away. That left these two. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Old Friends” tour tottered into MCI Center Sunday night for the first of two shows. (The first sold out in 15 minutes.) A late stop on their first tour in 20 years, the show didn’t surpass expectations — but who says it had to?

Before the first note had been sung, the evening’s mood of self-conscious nostalgia was set with the projection on overhead screens of a Paul-and-Artie-and-our-times photo album.

As the slide show ended, the lights rose on the five-time Grammy-winners and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legends who occupied a folk-pop middle ground in the ‘60s somewhere between the escapist whimsy of Donovan and the apocalyptic prophecy of Dylan.

Mr. Simon has dispensed with the rugs and ball caps under which he tried for years to disguise his baldness. Underneath, it turns out, lay a sparse planting of overgrown wisps, like a baby’s skull.

Mr. Garfunkel’s stand of curls is still thick — but oranger and even more upright. He was dressed for the wrong comeback tour. Sporting a black vest over a white shirt and black tie, he was all set to sing harmony vocals for the Knack reunion concert.

The well-behaved crowd was — is there a way to put this delicately? — remarkably monochromatic. Twenty-thousand white people: This audience made a GOP convention look like a melting pot.

The performance was slow to take off. The duo opened with “Old Friends,” a poetical young man’s field study of two older men, “Winter companions lost in their overcoats.” As delivered by the 60-plus singers, its signature line — “How terribly strange to be 70” — resonates now with an irony almost too direct.

They continued with the driving, quasi-psychedelic rock of “Hazy Shade of Winter” followed by “I Am a Rock” (“A winter’s day in a deep and dark December”) — a veritable winter suite, calculated to echo both the pair’s advanced years and the raw weather punishing the Eastern seaboard.

The first of the famous catalog to elicit instant audience recognition, the misanthropic “I Am a Rock” sounded all too literal as sung live by Paul Simon. By the time the aloof performer sang “I am a rock, I am an island” on Sunday night, it was starting to sound like a boast he was bent on proving.

Wearing a blank expression and seeming to shrink from Mr. Garfunkel’s gestures of warmth, Mr. Simon at times seemed like the only person in the arena unaware of the electric potential of Simon and Garfunkel near the end of their reunion tour in the nation’s capital on the night of the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Preceded by an initial round of the show’s recurring (and scripted) Sunshine Boys sparring about egos and billing and their famous bickering, the two romped through a self-mocking version of “Hey, Schoolgirl,” a minor Everly Brothers-style hit they recorded in their teens as Tom and Jerry.

Then they introduced Don and Phil Everly — really — and left the stage.

The Everly Brothers — harmonies more tightly synchronized than those of the headliners — ripped through four classics from their late ‘50s heyday.

The crowd came alive, contributing raucous “ooh-la-las” to the bridge of the country-tinged gem “Wake Up Little Susie” and rising to sing along with their rousing debut hit — and country-rock template — “Bye Bye Love.”

An inspired stroke, the Everlys’ set kick-started the crowd and grounded Simon and Garfunkel — who over the years were apt to veer dangerously close to the saccharine and schmaltzy — in the rock-‘n’-roll tradition.

From then on, the hits came without interruption, and momentum built: A fragile “Scarborough Fair,” a jazzy “Homeward Bound” and the song that more than any other sounds as if it was written expressly for Mr. Garfunkel’s whispering tenor, “Sounds of Silence.”

Laugh all you want at Art Garfunkel. Call him the second luckiest guy in show business, after Ringo Starr, but his voice is one of a kind. He can project a lullaby into the nosebleed seats of a basketball arena.

Contrary to some reports of the tour, neither voice seems much diminished by wear and tear. Mr. Garfunkel’s voice in particular sounded lush, limber and lubricated. He seemed to climb the ladder as effortlessly as ever in his faithful live rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Mr. Simon ornamented the verse on which he sang lead with some beautiful and surprising gospelly passing notes, but his prayerful and solemn hand gestures flirted with bathos.

Mr. Simon introduced his ‘70s solo hit “Slip Slidin’ Away” with a gracious nod to his partner. Reflecting that a lot of his ‘70s solo material “would have made great Simon and Garfunkel songs,” he added, “It never hurts to have Art Garfunkel singing your songs.”

Mr. Garfunkel returned the compliment, thanking the songwriter and dominant member of the duo for the rare “gift” of “putting these songs through my voice” for so many years.

As if inspired by the Everly Brothers, the show also rocked — on “Keep the Customer Satisfied”; the surprisingly unsentimental 1975 comeback single “My Little Town”; the bright and syncopated “Cecilia,” which elicited a smile and some experimental head-tossing from a slowly thawing Mr. Simon; and above all on “Mrs. Robinson,” introduced by a film montage of home movies and clips from “The Graduate.”

As the show built to a climax, the Senior Executive Service types loosened up, the instruments grew stranger — a theremin on “The Boxer,” a kind of makeshift trombone that looked like a mortar tube with a slide on “59th Street Bridge Song”— and, finally, the standing ovations were overlapping each other.

It took longer than it should have, but then, as this long-time-in-coming reunion proved, Simon and Garfunkel have never been in a hurry.


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