The stakes were higher on Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound Tour as one of the musical giants of the age took his farewell bow - with the cheeky proviso that he wasn’t ruling out a Sinatra-style comeback. For now though, it was au revoir to an old friend. Like his New York songwriting peer Neil Diamond, there was a frailty to Simon at first glimpse. This endowed opening number America with a valedictory vulnerability, enhanced by a gorgeous arrangement with plaintive sax and the band ebbing and flowing behind him.
Paul Simon, Hydro, Glasgow ****
But concerns for Simon’s stamina over this bumper two-and-a-half hour show were soon dispelled as he danced lightly over the phrasing of 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover with a blues flourish to finish and then danced literally on the chirpy zydeco number That Was Your Mother.
Given Simon’s role in helping to bring African music to a western audience via his mega-selling Graceland album, this was a suitably globe-straddling set from an international band. From the bayous of Louisiana, he jumped to Jamaica for Mother and Child Reunion, from Nigeria for Spirit Voices (in the company of new guitarist Biodun Kuti, who replaces the late Vincent Nguini) to Brazil for The Obvious Child.
There was even a nod to the home nations with guitarist Mark Stewart in his clan kilt and Simon giving due credit to English folk legend Martin Carthy for the development of his guitar picking skills.
Band arrangements throughout were thoughtful, unexpected and beautifully wrought. Simon gathered the string, brass and woodwind players of the yMusic ensemble in chamber group format at the front of the stage for a touching Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War and a lyrical rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water - this successful attempt to “reclaim my child” won him a rightful standing ovation.
Later, those same musicians swapped reeds and bows for voice in a credible recreation of the South African choral tradition on Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes which rounded off the main set alongside the celebratory singalong of You Can Call Me Al.
Two extensive encores ticked off a number of other Simon gems, including the soulful Still Crazy After All These Years and a resonant American Tune as well as the opportunity for Simon to take a nostalgic moment with a montage of old photos, tickets and clippings and drink in the thunderous response to Simon & Garfunkel classics The Boxer and The Sound of Silence.