This 1980 recording of Paul Simon running through his repertoire captures a solid performance from the former folk troubadour, though a highly subdued one with an all-too-brief set list. Before the singer had shifted into his full "world music mode," it appears he was vying for pole position in the adult contemporary raceway. Any jagged edges have been long since shorn off in favor of organ tinkling so soft it would make Michael McDonald blush and saxophone solos the likes of which have probably soothed you once or twice in a dentist's office. In other words, this is "wuss rock" Paul Simon, not the dark and sensitive poet of the Simon & Garfunkel years or the revitalized elder statesmen that would emerge on Graceland.
Oh, the 1980s, so much to answer for. What you did to once potent musicians can never be forgiven. Not that this Live from Philadelphia performance is achingly awful. It's nearly impossible to bury the lovely melody of "Still Crazy After All These Years" or the appeal of classics like "The Boxer" or "The Sound of Silence" (the latter performed by Simon alone with his electric guitar, and quite touching in that format). It's just that the performance is so safe, so uniformly undercooked, that it's hard to see how this show warrants an unearthing all by itself. The opening rendition of "Me and Julio" sounds like it's slowly drifting away after overdosing on sleeping pills, and most of the set is made up of a 1-to-1 ratio of hits and songs that only the most ardent of fans have likely heard of. For every "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," there is a "Something So Right."
More like "Something So Slight." At a scant 53 minutes, Live from Philadelphia should either have been a bonus on a more substantive DVD or quietly buried at the bottom of a boxed set. Surely Paul Simon has done better, has he not?
The Set List: Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard * Still Crazy After All These Years * Ace in the Hole * Something So Right * One-Trick Pony * Jonah * 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover * Late in the Evening * American Tune * The Boxer * The Sound of Silence
The full frame picture for this concert is showing its age. Obviously shot on video, it's got some faded colors and the resolution is a tad blurry. Whatever source it was mastered from, it was likely transferred with very little digital upgrade. The picture is not bad, but don't expect anything better than what you might have seen when this was either first released on VHS or broadcast on TV.
There are three audio mixes to choose from here: two Dolby Digital options, in 2.0 and in 5.1, and a DTS Surround option. The higher end tracks are your best bets as far as clarity and volume. The 2.0 mix sounds somewhat muted, and though there isn't any great interplay between the speakers, there is an immediately obvious improvement in the better mixes, with nicer overall tones.
None unless you count being able to choose individual songs from a sub menu. The DVD comes in a flimsy cardboard case with a soft plastic interior tray. It's cheaply priced, at least, which I guess warrants being so cheaply produced.
A midfield sleeper in the singer-songwriter's ongoing game, Paul Simon: Live From Philadelphia is about as slight a DVD release as you're likely to find. Probably put out just because someone had the ability to do so rather than any great clamoring for it to exist, the concert here is merely eleven songs clocking in at less than an hour, and it showcases Simon at his most passionless. (He appears to be wearing a windbreaker, for goodness sake.) If you're a completist, you may dig it, but given the lack of extras or any substance, most will find little to compel a purchase. Rent It.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.