Paul Simon wrapped up his legendary career as a touring artist with a masterful hometown show at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Saturday night that grew increasingly emotional as it came to the end.
Simon, 76, ended what he says is his final tour with a gorgeous, hushed version of “The Sound of Silence.” After a lengthy ovation, Simon said, “It means more than you could know.”
With the applause and the screams showing no signs of dying down, Simon lifted his arms, and his acoustic guitar, in a victory sign and walked off the stage, waving and silent, before the spotlight on him went off.
For an artist known for his attention to detail, it’s no surprise that Simon wanted to decide when and how he would stop touring. And his two-and-a-half-hour, career-spanning performance was close to perfect – the rarest of full-circle moments, as the kid from Kew Gardens took control of the public park he remembered as a 20-minute bike ride from his house and filled it with the music he started making when he was only 13.
“How fun is it to sing a song about Corona in Corona?” Simon asked, following a lively version of “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” that featured his wife Edie Brickell handling the whistling solo. The roar of approval was almost as loud as the screams following the line, “Goodbye to Rosie, the queen of Corona.”
Simon paid tribute to his roots throughout the night. He even took a moment to play catch, throwing a baseball out into the crowd and having them, eventually, throw it back to him onstage. Catching a baseball onstage with spotlights in your eyes is no small feat. However, his feats grew larger from there.
“The Sound of Silence” aside, Simon’s show was bookended by “America” and “American Tune,” songs that find hope in the midst of the country’s upheaval.
“It’s strange times, huh?” said Simon, introducing “American Tune.” “Don’t give up.”
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In between those songs, Simon and his first-rate, multicultural band, which, at times, swelled to 14 members onstage, provided reasons not to give up. They moved effortlessly from the American folk of Simon and Garfunkel’s early work to the Latin rhythms of “Late in the Evening,” the zydeco stomp of “That Was Your Mother,” and five songs from the South African-influenced “Graceland.”
The joy from those songs was unmistakable, replaced in the second encore by something else. Simon, who had been telling stories and joking about the distractions that come with playing in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, including some unexpected fireworks and the planes landing at LaGuardia airport, suddenly became less talkative, as if the enormity of the moment began to hit him. There was no talk about his future plans, about wanting to write more music and perform occasionally, as he had discussed at previous shows. There was no introduction to “The Sound of Silence” and Simon sounded choked up, as he sang, “Hello darkness, my old friend,” more quietly than usual.
It was a sign that this farewell tour was no gimmick, not something that he would likely reconsider a few years down the road with a “Just Kidding” tour. Hopefully, Simon enjoyed the send-off he received from the thousands standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the moonlight, because the farewell he gave to them was unforgettable.
SET LIST: America / 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover / The Boy in the Bubble / Dazzling Blue / That Was Your Mother / Rewrite / Mother and Child Reunion / Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard / Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War / Can’t Run But / Bridge Over Troubled Water / Wristband / Spirit Voices / The Obvious Child / Questions for Angels / The Cool Cool River / Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes / You Can Call Me Al // ENCORE: Late in the Evening / Still Crazy After All These Years / Graceland // SECOND ENCORE: Homeward Bound / Kodachrome / The Boxer / American Tune / The Sound of Silence