The Boston Phoenix
July 29 - August 5, 1999

[Music Reviews]

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Bob Dylan and Paul Simon: Counting to 10

If rock and roll were championship wrestling -- and groups from Kiss to Limp Bizkit have proved throughout the second half of the music's history that much of it is -- Bob Dylan and Paul Simon would make a good senior-division tag team. They're the same age (both born in 1941) and they possess traits that complement each other. Simon has a smooth choirboy's voice (though he's starting to look a bit like Mel Brooks) and a knack for detailed, sugary pop arrangements. Dylan's singing has grown as craggy as his face -- and that's very craggy. He favors spare musical treatments that give his songs a rough edge and favor his lyrics. Dylan is an inveterate tourer; Simon apparently would not be taking the stage this summer if not for the costly failure of his ambitious 1997 Broadway production, The Capeman. Both men have their trophies -- Grammys and the like -- and legacies with folk-music roots that twist on up through modern rock. (For the record, Simon & Garfunkel covered Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin' " on their 1964 debut album.)

But without opponents -- maybe Bob Weir and James Taylor, or Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell for a "Battle of the Sexes" -- their shared bill at the Tweeter Center a week ago Thursday made their differences merely differences. Dylan, soaring on another of his occasional career updrafts, emerged as the righteous champion of rock and roll he's always been beneath the hype, the wear and tear, and the aimlessness that have by turns overwhelmed his music since he played his first electric set on stage in 1965. In a set split between energetic acoustic and electric performances, he sang hard and clear as he plucked out rough-hewn guitar solos and delivered numbers like "Masters of War," "My Back Pages," and "Tangled Up in Blue" -- songs that have influenced the emotional and political thought of generations.

Simon's set, more a career overview than Dylan's flashback, ranged from Simon & Garfunkel hits like "The Boxer" to his '70s smash "Still Crazy After All These Years" to Graceland's "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me Al" and tunes from The Capeman -- songs that for the most part have influenced generations to mellow out. Although Simon's voice proved still capable of soaring on its own, his 11-piece band was an albatross that played with technical precision yet labored through vacuous instrumental passages and suffered from spineless, dated synthesizer sounds (including a painfully hideous B-3 organ patch).

Nonetheless, Simon was a charming entertainer. And the camaraderie evident when he and Dylan sang together -- first a genuinely harmonious "Sounds of Silence," then a progressively uneven hash of Buddy Holly, Dion, and finally Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" -- seemed unforced. If only Simon had thrown one rabbit punch.

-- Ted Drozdowski
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