Friday 24 November 2017

folk rock

John Meagher

John Meagher

The O2, Dublin

A groundbreaking album on its 1986 release, Paul Simon's Graceland fused the rich sounds of South African townships with his own idiosyncratic songcraft. It ushered in a whole new interest in so-called 'world music' and it resuscitated Simon's own career, eventually going on to shift 14 million copies.

More than a quarter of a century later, the veteran singer returned to a post-Apartheid South Africa and reunited with the musicians who helped him produce the most singular album of his career.

This show celebrated that collaboration in memorable fashion, not least because Simon was joined by Graceland's original players and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the vocal group who supplied the album's evocative harmonies.

The passage of time has done nothing to dull the potency of the songs which sounded immense in the O2's vast space. Simon -- a youthful looking 70-year-old -- is a generous performer, happy to let his colleagues bask in the adoration.

The Ladysmith men light up the room with their astonishing, multi-part harmonies and their joyful delivery. The quality of the musicianship, meanwhile, is spectacular -- as it needs to be to fully capture Graceland's complex, ambitious arrangements.

'The Boy in the Bubble' and 'Gumboots' have lost none of their potency, while 'Under African Skies' has a poignant ring to it as singer Thandiswa Mazwai takes the place of the late Miriam Makeba. The album's most commercially successful song, 'You Can Call Me Al', is performed twice -- first as a faithful reproduction of the recorded original, and then, in one of the two encores, as a glorious anthemic epic that has them dancing in the aisles.

Although Graceland provides the heart of the show, there is no shortage of career-spanning material. The two-hour-40-minute set begins with Simon's regular touring band and includes 'Dazzling Blue' from his most recent album the highly acclaimed So Beautiful or So What. At every turn, there's evidence of Simon's lyrical and melodic gifts.

Later, after Graceland has been revisited and before the stage fills for a rousing finale with the 25 musicians and singers who've appeared at various stages of the night, Simon appears alone to perform a gorgeous, plaintive version of 'Sound of Silence'. It's a slice of classic American songcraft -- penned with his old friend Art Garfunkel when he was just 21. It remains an extraordinary achievement.

Irish Independent

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