The Concert In Hyde Park — (CD/DVD)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
There are plenty of Paul Simon DVDs — not including ones with Garfunkel — already available that document different stages in the singer-songwriter’s extensive, 45 year solo career. But this one, recorded shortly after his less expansive but still impressive Live in New York City (with the same band), gets the nod for the most explosive, exciting and moving performance of the lot.
It’s also arguably the best shot and recorded one with striking Blu-ray resolution, uncompressed PCM surround sound and multi-camera angles providing a stage eye view of one superb, memorable concert recorded at the titular location on July 15, 2012. Even with the overindulgent editing that’s occasionally a little too caffeinated, this is an extraordinary document.
The circumstances of this particular night where Simon played to what looks like tens of thousands of London fans outdoors with special guests helps make it exceptional. Invitees include not just Jimmy Cliff, who turns in energetic versions of — surprise! —“The Harder They Come,” “Many Rivers to Cross” and “Vietnam,” and sticks around to join Simon for a stirring “Mother and Child Reunion,” but also the original touring version of the Graceland band. While three of those remain in his outstanding backing unit, it’s a treat to see the great guitarist Ray Phiri, trumpeter Hugh Masekela and especially vocalist Ladysmith Black Mambazo take the stage to run through all but one track from that career high release.
Only one track from Simon’s then most recent disc, 2011’s So Beautiful or So What (“Dazzling Blue”), and two Simon & Garfunkel tunes make the cut. But both a solo acoustic “Sound of Silence” and “The Boxer,” featuring Jerry Douglas on unplugged slide, are riveting. Other highlights include an imaginative mash-up of “Hearts and Bones,” with Elvis’/Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” and Chet Atkins’ “Wheels,” a creative combination that explores some of Simon’s deep Americana roots.
With a back catalog as rich as Simon’s it’s impossible to include even some of his biggest hits. Still, the omission of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is noteworthy in its absence and “The Cool Cool River” would have been a logical choice to perform on this night.
But that’s splitting hairs on what is by any standard a rousing two and a half hour tour de force. Why it has taken five years to appear is unclear, but now that it’s here, it is the new standard for Simon shows. This is the single most economical way to show youngsters who may not be aware of Paul Simon’s genius, both the breadth of his catalog and his ability to mesmerize a massive audience through sheer talent, understated showmanship and great songwriting.