Back from a busy weekend in Auckland. Simon & Garfunkel played. Twice. And I went to both shows. I only found out I'd be at both gigs at about 4pm on Friday. But, good stuff. I've always been interested in the idea of attending back-to-back shows by an artist but it's an extravagance that I can't afford. And, if I'm reviewing an artist performing more than one show it's only ever the one show that is needed for a review.
So for S&G I struck it lucky, wearing my professional hat for one gig and then along as a punter for the second concert.
We booked our flights as soon as we could - back when I wrote this, just after the gig was announced. Then there was the debacle of preferential ticketing; the gig sells out in 17 minutes. I'm sure we weren't alone in hoping a second show would be added. And, luckily it was; tickets for that show proved easier to obtain.
From there I was asked to file a review for the Dominion Post and tickets were made available for me for the Saturday night. Four rows from the front, it was pretty cool. I know it happens from time to time - but it was interesting to note the two seats next to me were empty. And there was a block of seats near the sound-desk that were empty. So much for selling it out in less than half an hour.
For Sunday night we were further back in the venue, upstairs; but we still had pretty good seats. Nothing like the fourth row, but no complaints. Worth the money we paid.
It's hard to pick a favourite night - I expected them to be identical but there were some differences. And it was interesting to see the two shows. Saturday was the very first night of the tour and there were some nerves, some jitters; these two old friend are seasoned pros, sure, but they were obviously working out their banter and they seemed uncomfortable in their encore embrace - unsure whether to hug or just punch each other below the shoulder.
And there was also a technical glitch on Saturday. But it was a happy accident in the end. Art Garfunkel started Bridge over Troubled Water and then Paul Simon took a verse. During his section the microphone popped - it was a huge bang - and Simon continued, at first unaware that he couldn't be heard. The audience picked up the tune and ran with it, carrying it along until the glitch was ironed out and Simon and Garfunkel could continue with the song. They both looked rapt. Paul Simon would later say it was a memory he'd keep forever - the crowd helping him out.
The other weird thing about Saturday night was the early inclusion of The Sounds of Silence. It went over very well, but it's such an obvious encore/set-closer for a gig like this - and Sunday night they saved it. So it was nice to see the sets being rejigged; not quite completely nailed down.
Art Garfunkel's voice is blown - it's so weak now. And it really shows when he does his solo set. Bright Eyes is either magic or bile (it would appear it's pretty polarising for fans, generally) but on the two nights in Auckland most fans seemed to love it. That's fair enough. But it was not cool hearing Artie follow it up with those dreaded words, "this one's a new one". It was one he'd written. It was not strong.
Seeing this for the first time (Saturday) I figured Paul Simon was allowing Art Garfunkel a bit of the limelight, given that most of the songs are from Simon's pen - including a few of his solo hits that the duo now play as part of their reunion shows (Slip Slidin' Away, My Little Town). But the real treat was hearing a short Paul Simon solo set in the middle of the gig, following Garfunkel's brief run.
As soon as Simon and the band kicked in to Me and Julio Down by the School Yard, the little man looked and sounded 20 years younger. He seemed happier (he never looks happy) and the band was thriving with the livelier arrangements. Graceland's The Boy in the Bubble and Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes competed (easily) with some of the big S&G songs.
And then - unbelievably - both nights some clown/s yelled out "play The Boxer"; thankfully that person/those people were on hand to yell that out or the band might have forgotten! I wanted to walk over, find the person and hand them a card: "you might want to call this number. Yes, it's Jim Henson. Give him a call, he may have a job for you because you, sir, are a Muppet".
The first night - "play The Boxer" was yelled out right near the end. During the encores. Did that person really think they deserved a pat on the back for granting every audience member's wish? And it made me wonder, on Sunday, when it was called out far earlier, was it the same twit who figured he had better be there to remind them once again? This time Paul Simon had an answer, "we almost never play that anymore", he added a half-chuckle, "but here's one from the same album" before kicking in to The Only Living Boy in New York.
Garfunkel's poked voice could never ruin the shows - it was often quite endearing, breathing his way through the saccharine Bright Eyes; working hard to get to the top of Bridge. And there's still a quality to his voice - and to the blend of their voices. There's also a puzzling intensity about Art Garfunkel: he's a very bright man and he has a darkness in his energy that's quite beguiling.
I thought it was worth seeing them both nights and in some ways I preferred Sunday's show: Bridge over Troubled Water was fixed, the duo was sharper and happier in their dialogue, the band added a couple more solos (always tasteful). But Saturday was great too - I was right up close watching these two work through their past in the present, it was fresh to me, seeing it for the first time. I really do think that on the Saturday they were nervous about how the show would be perceived. Of course they should never have worried. But I think they were, as a result, more visibly relaxed on the Sunday.
So, I'm keen on people's thoughts if they went to either or both of the shows. But I'm also keen on your thoughts on the concept and examples of when you have watched more than one show on the same tour by an artist. Have you followed someone around Australia? Been to more than one show in NZ or attended two in the same city back-to-back? Or elsewhere in the world? And if not is there someone you would like to watch more than once? Would you want to see the same show replicated flawlessly to appreciate the talent involved in being so seamless? Or would you want to see a band like The Rolling Stones with a catalogue so vast that no two shows can ever be identical? (I guess it's the same with Bob Dylan - he doesn't even have a setlist sometimes; his band watching him for cues.)
Oh - and if you do travel for gigs, be wary of using Jetstar. They implemented a policy on Sunday and then chose to tell a group of us at 5.32am on Monday that this was the case; they now cut off boarding completely for their 6am flight at 5.30am sharp. This includes stopping serving people who have been in a queue since before 5.30am. No alternative arrangements are made - the plane just flies off half-full but with everyone's money. People stranded, forced to take a day off work or arrive very late (at best) to both Christchurch and Wellington were not walking around with happy faces on. I was just waiting for someone to pop up and call out "play The Boxer" as I killed six hours in an airport. That would have had me reaching for Jim Henson's card only to discover I'd left it at Jetstar's service booth.
You get what you pay for, I guess. (But it would be nice to at least get it.)
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