Paul Simon Rogers Arena, Vancouver BC, May 16

Paul Simon Rogers Arena, Vancouver BC, May 16
Photo: Joshua Peter Grafstein
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If we were to make a list of the greatest singer-songwriter artists alive today, Paul Simon would no doubt make the top five. It's impossible to express just how profound an effect he's had on the music industry since he came onto the scene with Simon and Garfunkel in 1964. His songs have become an important part of people's intimate moments and fondest memories.
 
These reasons and many more are why tickets to his farewell tour, Homeward Bound, are selling out, and why there was no shortage of teary eyes at Rogers Arena last night in Vancouver. Simon, 76, began the first night of his last tour with the beautiful and iconic "America." Something about "playing games with the faces" on the Greyhound and asking Kathy for a cigarette just pulls listeners out of their troubles and put them into a dreamy world of Americana and poetry.
 
"Hello, my friends!" said Simon, stretching out his arms and sounding no different than he had in the heyday of Graceland. "You know I have to say this… I lied about the 'final.' I was just trying to raise the ticket prices," Simon said jokingly to the crowd, with a laidback, youthful swagger that hinted he was still very much a product of the '60s.
 
"Nah, this is it," he said. "But I don't know what 'it' is."
 
Simon holds a special place in many hearts, and is by no means owned by one generation — the arena was packed with all ages, all happily singing along to "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." Also, Simon has always been very concerned with percussion and a solid backing band, and he definitely has some high-quality musicians on this tour.
 
"Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," and of course, "You Can Call Me Al" really brought musician, band and audience together. If there was a disappointing moment in the evening, it's only that the band sunk into an instrumental excerpt of "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)," but no lyrics were sung.
 
The high point in the night was an unexpected one. Simon pulled out two songs he claims to have never performed live before: "Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War, and "Can't Run But." The former was a stunning example of Simon's lyrical prowess and knack for composing. Its odd name came from a visit to see Joan Baez and her sister Mimi Fariña. When Baez went to take a call, Simon grabbed a book of Rene Magritte's paintings from her collection and saw the photograph: inspiration hit.
 
Simon performed both of these relatively unknown songs surrounded by a small orchestra. Throughout the evening, and in this moment in particular, Simon would conduct the talented musicians around him with reverence for the sound and flowing hand gestures.
 
Simon performed not three encores: The first featured the tour's namesake, Simon and Garfunkel darling "Homeward Bound." In fact, he saved most of the group's material for the encores, swinging though "Mrs. Robinson," "The Boxer" and "The Sound of Silence" in the last 30 minutes. "The Boxer" was a particularly heartwarming moment, with Rogers Arena singing along in reverence. Simon standards "Still Crazy After All These Years" and "Graceland" also made an appearance near the end of the night.
 
Make no mistake, this was an emotional goodbye. Simon stayed on the stage gazing emotionally out into the auditorium for far longer than the typical artist does. He was most certainly saying goodbye. And this felt incredibly personal.
 
Simon seems very aware of the impact his expansive catalogue has had on people over the last 54 years. But he is very humble about it and respectful of his fans' attachment to these songs — songs that will live on long after Simon.
 

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