The last time that Paul Simon played in Singapore was in 1993, when he appeared with Art Garfunkel.
The Straits Times reviewer blasted the show, staged at a time when cordiality between the legendary duo was at a low ebb.
“The two childhood friends… were more like two strangers thrown together on stage,” said reviewer Phan Ming Yen.
Reports leading up to the show at the Singapore Indoor Stadium spoke of the outrage at the ticket prices, which topped off at S$300 (US$240), which at the time set a record for a pop concert. To top it off, the pair was on stage for just over an hour.
The Simon of today remembers that night. There is a tinge of regret in the 71-year-old’s
voice when he talks about it and while he stops short of offering an apology, he acknowledges that it could have gone better.
Simon is one of four acts playing Friday night at the Timbre: Rock & Roots show at Fort Canning Green. The other acts are Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Cliff and Mike’s Apartment.
“The show will be different. It will certainly be longer than that show,” says Simon, on the telephone from Taipei on Wednesday, a few hours before a concert that will kick off his new world tour.
“That show was…” his voice trails off as he searches for words to describe the 1993 performance here.
“That was not the best show I ever did,” he says, after a pause.
In Singapore, Simon and his band are scheduled to play for two hours. The band are bigger now compared to his last tour in the country, he says, and are staffed with musicians he has worked with for years.
He and Garfunkel have since mended fences and in 2009, they toured again, in Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Last December, on Simon’s website, he wrote that Garfunkel was a “great singer” and a “gifted record producer”. He made the post in response to the movie “This Is 40″, which contained a joke alluding to the belief held by many that Garfunkel enjoyed a free ride on Simon’s musical talent when the duo were at the height of their fame in the 1960s.
They were known for their vocal harmonies and their hits included “The Sound of Silence”, “Mrs Robinson” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
The 1970 release of the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album was to be their last studio project as a duo. Garfunkel had become increasingly interested in acting while Simon felt artistically stifled within the duo format.
While Simon likes to show off songs from recent albums in live shows, he is aware that context matters a great deal. Older hits will make up most of the material in Singapore show, he says.
“What I find is that if you play new material and play it well, and if people can hear it clearly, then there’s an excitement.”
But Fort Canning Green is a large outdoor space, he notes.
“I’m going to be playing at a festival and it’s a big venue and it doesn’t particularly lend itself to new songs that might require a lot of concentration. There’s a general atmosphere of people having a good time, talking, drinking. Festivals are more fun when you play the more familiar songs, when you play up-tempo stuff so people can dance. I tend to make ‘em more like rhythm shows,” he says.
The musician says that among the 20 or more songs he will play tonight will be material from the groundbreaking “Graceland” album, “two or three” songs from the Simon and Garfunkel period of 1964 to 1970, his solo hits from the 1970s and 1980s and a few songs from recent albums.
His last album, the folk rock-tinged “So Beautiful Or So What” was released in 2011 to widespread critical acclaim and commercial success, debuting at number 4 on the US Billboard 200 chart, the highest debut of Simon’s career. Critics hailed it as a comeback, one of several in his long career.
The reason he has not been back in Singapore in almost 20 years is that on the whole, he does not tour very much, he says.
“Most years, I do 30 shows. I am more with family than I am on the road,” he says.
He lives in Connecticut with his wife, musician Edie Brickell, 47, whom he married in 1992. He had been married twice before, his second wife being actress Carrie Fisher, 56. He has a son, Harper, 40, from his first marriage and three children with Brickell.
He has also been busy recording his next album, which will feature jazz guests, among them singer Bobby McFerrin and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
When not recording, he is involved in charity work and plays at benefits. Last year, he performed at a benefit at Radio City Music Hall for the Children’s Health Fund, a body he co-founded 26 years ago to form mobile units that bring medical care to children in disadvantaged areas in the United States.
At that performance, he appeared with daughter Lulu, 18, who sang the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” while he played the guitar. The video on YouTube has been viewed almost 20,000 times.
His son Harper is a singer-songwriter starting to get attention. Will Lulu also take the same path?
“I’m not sure. She plays music all the time and writes it. She’s going to university next year. I think she’s considering music, but I don’t think she’s made a choice whether it will be her profession. It’s still open,” he says.
Reprinted courtesy of The Straits Times