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Simon, Starr parade greatness in Pittsburgh

Written By Amanda Meyers, A&E Editor

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When two music legends roll into town the same week, be prepared for masterpiece-level music with a rush of nostalgia – even if you weren’t alive for those early days. 

Paul Simon and Ringo Starr are at different points in their musical careers.  One bound for the comforts of home, while the other is eager for the unknown.  Their presence is enough to elicit smiles from endearing fans who hang on their
every word.

Simon’s stop at PPG Paints Arena on Sept. 17 marked the tail end of his Homeward Bound farewell tour.  After a final show in New York on Saturday, Simon’s time moving forward will be quieter, removed from the thunderous
applause. 

And there was plenty of that to go around last Monday night.

Moved by the tears and love from the audience, Simon rode that tidal wave of sound for a solid two-and-a-half hours.  His performance looked far from a swan song, though.

Opening with the tender and poignant “America,” Simon’s 14-year absence from the city was felt immediately, especially when he got to the “boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh” line.

After a swift key change to “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” with an injection of funk, the first foot tapping of the evening began.

Simon’s humble talk-sing tone was lifted by his vibrant guitar playing and a large backing band of strings, horns, percussion and guitar.  They added new flair to favorites like “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”  Simon found time to channel his own groove in the midst of the scene, looking more like a little kid than a man in his 70s.

Even though this was a farewell show, there was plenty of newer music.  Simon’s most recent album “In the Blue Light” reworks old songs in favor of new shapes and sounds.  “Can’t Run But” was a charging example.  In between the peaks and valleys, Simon made wave movements with his hand, feeling the vibrations of the notes.

Simon shifted the arrangements of many songs to match his voice and high standards of music.  One of those was “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the Art Garfunkel-led song that skyrocketed the duo to super-stardom.  Simon sang the track in a soft reflective tone, remembering his old friend quietly.

Aside from the serious moments, Simon’s humor provided a bright spot during the evening.

When an older lady in the crowd screamed out she loved him, he quipped back: “Let’s see how you feel in your 20s, that might change.”

Fan favorite “You Can Call Me Al” was a soaring send off before two staggering encores.  Simon took note of his state of mind with “Still Crazy After All These Years,” singing sharply before going to “Graceland.”  “Kodachrome” was a bright burst of fun that made way for the mournful comedown of “The Boxer.”

“I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.”

This sentiment rocked fans across the arena, remembering this was his departure rather than a returning hello.  To exit, Simon stood alone, surrounded by darkness, as he gave every fiber in his being to “The Sound of Silence.”  As long as we have his music, there will never be a quiet moment removed from the delicate hand of his songwriting and the life wave of his infectious rhythms.

The arrival of a Beatle on Wednesday was needed to raise rock spirits in the city.

A genre-spanning songbook was about to unfold as soon as Ringo Starr leaped onto the stage at Heinz Hall on Sept. 19.  The once oldest Beatle looked a good twenty years younger as he swayed in skinny leather pants.

Starr dug in deep with a cover of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” before transitioning to his material.  “It Don’t Come Easy” seemed contradictory given how naturally the night came to Starr, even if he never was much of a singer.  The Beatles’ “What Goes On” was a sweet surprise before he took the reins of an additional drum kit.

Backed by his All-Starr band, each member had their time in the spotlight.  Bassist Graham Gouldman of 10cc sent earthlings to the stratosphere with airy vocals on songs like “I’m Not in Love.”  One time singer for Santana, Greg Rolie, worked the keys and sang smoothly to “Black Magic Woman” and “Evil Ways” among others.

The man that worked the guitar on those songs was Steve Lukather of Toto.  He got people up on their feet for 80s classics “Rosanna,” “Hold the Line” and “Africa” while making mention of Weezer’s cover.

The other main All-Starr was  Colin Hay, formerly of Men at Work.  His high vocal range made its way into the chorus of “Africa” and his own songs “Down Under,” “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Overkill.”
Starr was generous during these moments as he smiled and bobbed his head back and forth.  But when he found his way back to the mic, he was all in.

He shook his nonexistent hair on “Boys.”  Then he fumbled with a keyboard on the intro to “Don’t Pass Me By” before strutting to center stage.

Heart strings were tugged with the nostalgic “Photograph” and silly country tune “Act Naturally.”  The most significant moments weren’t as serious either.

“Yellow Submarine” and sing-along closer “With a Little Help From My Friends” captured the essence of Ringo: the fun, lovable one driving the backbeat.

And it looks like it’s full steam ahead for this one.

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