Paul Simon isn’t the best singer, but his ability to use his distinctive voice to tell a story is inimitable.
He isn’t the most charismatic performer, either. But all he really needs to do is remind the audience how much he loves the ceiling at the Fox Theatre (and joke, “But it’s no Chastain Park” – scene of his last chatty-crowd Atlanta appearance in 2011 ) and warmly place his hand over his heart at show’s end to demonstrate his continued love of sharing his music.
Simon played a couple of festival dates this past week, but Tuesday’s sold-out Fox concert was the first official show of a tour that wraps at the end of June.
The welcome re-appearance of one of music’s most celebrated bards is tied to the June 3 release of his 13th solo studio album, “Stranger to Stranger.”
During the nearly two-hour show, Simon, 74, debuted a couple of new tracks – the endlessly amusing “Wristband,” steeped in a stand-up bass groove, and “The Werewolf,” punctuated with hand claps over a bluesy tone.
Both were well-received by the crowd, but the chestnuts plucked from his extensive catalog as a musical singleton and with estranged partner Art Garfunkel allowed fans to properly relish a musical trip that was both nostalgic and fresh.
Simon employs an extraordinary band of nine musicians, including two brass players and longtime guitarist Vincent Nguini, who fill every molecule on stage with accordion, exotic percussion and varied wind instruments. On songs such as “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “Slip Slidin’ Away” (which brought the rare sighting of a drummer also playing guitar while keeping time on the high-hat pedal), the band presented a delicate musicality.
Later in the concert, the team harmonized beautifully on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” before seguing into the song’s rhythmic twin, “You Can Call Me Al.” Clearly, some of these songs were performed more to appease fans than to satiate Simon’s own musical interests, but he was always present – rolling his wrists and fluttering his fingers to the music – as he bustled around the stage.
Clad in a purple satin blazer, dark jeans and a black T-shirt, Simon also shared some snappy dance moves over a blast of accordion and washboard strumming during “That Was Your Mother” and shook his acoustic guitar at the crowd in a Chuck Berry move at the close of a polished rendition of “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”
He sounded especially poignant on a soft “Homeward Bound” and, as he unspooled the tale of “Duncan,” it was again evident how Simon’s delivery of a story-song is a world class art.
While the concert supplied plenty of musical highlights, Simon’s three encores provided the ideal cappers.
The combination of a bass line that crawls under your skin and those glorious horns were in full effect on “Late in the Evening,” which allowed the crowd a moment to leap to its feet.
But the trio of songs that followed – a sentimental “Still Crazy After All These Years,” a country-tinged, deeply effective presentation of “The Boxer” and the Simon & Garfunkel journey of lost souls, “America” -- epitomized Simon’s immeasurable songwriting prowess.
And he's far from finished.