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