Old Friends: Live On Stage

Simon & Garfunkel

Warner Bros., 2004


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


My first visit to Simon & Garfunkel town was a rousing success, so I deemed a return trip necessary. After giving the Essential collection a few spins, I decided to drop 30 bucks on the group's live album from their reunion tour a few years back. Live albums are notoriously hit or miss, so I was taking a risk. Luckily, the risk paid off with a huge reward.

There are a few qualities that make or break a live album. First, it has to sound good. Second, the material has to be performed well. Third, the audience has to sound enthused -- not tacked-on studio applause, but genuine enthusiasm. The fourth requirement is not necessarily needed, but is a welcome bonus; some tracks that outstrip their studio counterparts. Old Friends has all these qualities, and then some.

It is apparent from the first track, "Old Friends," that these people wanted to be there, listening to Simon & Garfunkel, noted in the exclamations of "I love you" by some in the audience. The pair then proceeds to deliver a pathos-filled, solemn reading of "Old Friends/Bookends." Lines like "How terribly strange to be seventy…" take on a whole new meaning since their inception, considering that Simon & Garfunkel were quite young when they first sang them.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I wasn't sure how the pair was going to go about recreating their classics; they certainly had options. In the end, a full band was brought along to add depth and authenticity to songs like "Hazy Shade Of Winter" or "Cecilia." Some might argue these tracks are sterile, but let's be honest; Simon & Garfunkel never cranked it up to 11. These people wanted to hear these songs they way they sounded, and in that regard mission accomplished. Besides, there is just enough innovation to add something special to the mix. The opening percussion solos to "Cecilia," the well-performed guitar solo on "America"...the list goes on.

Of course, the success of Old Friends depended solely on the performances of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. While age has weakened their voices, there is still an undeniable chemistry between the two that makes up for whatever shortcomings their vocals may have. There are moments, such as "The Leaves Are Green" or "My Little Town" where you'd be convinced it was the 60s again. That being said, a few moments grated on me a just a tad...the biggest being Simon's ad-libbing on "Bridge Over Troubled Water." First off, the song is made by Garfunkel's vocals and always has been. If Mr. Simon wished to sing a verse, that's fine, but follow the damn melody that made your song so incredible. Don't screw around for the sake of screwing around.

Plenty of good moments abound here, so I'll mention a few standouts. The Everly Brothers cover of "Bye Bye Love" is a nice nod to a band that inspired Simon & Garfunkel, while "Slip Slidin' Away" has always been a favorite Simon tune of mine, made more powerful here with Garfunkel's vocals. Finally, there is "The Sound Of Silence," and this performance is the best I've ever heard. The opening intro of the melody is completely new, and the pair's vocals sound much more world-weary. The music itself is much more elegiac than the original; in fact, the genius stroke is letting it open and finish with just Simon and Garfunkel alone with a guitar for the final verse. It is hard to explain, but there is a power in the simplicity of the presentation that touched me deeply.

I'm not ashamed to say that Old Friends is now up there with my favorite live albums; it does what a good live record should do. As far as musical relevance goes, I suppose this was an unnecessary look at Simon & Garfunkel, but that doesn't stop it from being a damn good album.

Rating: A

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