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Ed Power, 29 Aug 2012
When Paul Simon toured Graceland for the first time 25 years ago he was greeted with the jeers of protesters, incensed over his decision to record in Apartheid-era South Africa. Simon’s argument – that he was helping to enfranchise black artists marooned in places like Soweto, received short shrift from the P.C. mobs. A quarter century on, the howls have turned to cries of acclaim as he brings the land-mark L.P. – without which there would be no Yeasayer, Vampire Weekend or any number of other world-beat tinged indie acts – on the road.
Simon, now 70 and rather frumpy, is performing with the original line-up from the Graceland sessions, a gnarly collective whose loose-limbed playing pulsates with an infectious elan. The only missing voice is singer Miriam Makeba, who passed away in 2008, and is replaced by Thandiswa Mazwai: her mightily utulations imbue ‘Under African Skies’ with a cloud-scraping fervor. The first 40 minutes are a mini-greatest hits set, with Simon and his regular band dusting down ‘50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’, ‘Mother & Child Reunion’ and other stand-outs from his-post Simon & Garfunkel career. This is followed by a 20-minute interlude from township vocal troupe Ladysmith Black Mambazo, whose spiritual music is slightly undermined by their twitchy dancing – you keep thinking they’re about to break into the Haka.
Then Simon re-emerges to reprise Graceland, though not in the original order, with ‘Boy In The Bubble’ saved for halfway and ‘You Can Call Me Al’ kept until the very end, by which time the hardcore fans are on their feet and dancing up the front. He’s back for a third time, after that, to deliver acoustic readings of Simon & Garfunkel standards ‘The Boxer’ and ‘The Sound Of Silence’. “It’s great to be back here,” he deadpans towards the end. “I keep returning... for the beautiful weather.” It’s precisely this mixture of the ironic and the profound that continues to make him such a compelling and intriguing troubadour.