Live at Grand Central

Carly Simon

Arista, 2023

REVIEW BY: Peter Piatkowski


In 2019, Carly Simon released her second memoir, Touched By The Sun: My Friendship With Jackie, which told the story of her close friendship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The two women found each other at Martha’s Vineyard in early ’80s, and found a love for each other that lasted until the former first lady’s death in 1994. The title of the book is named after a song, “Touched By The Sun” which Simon wrote in honor of her late friend for her 1994 album, Letters Never Sent. Onassis, a major advocate and crusader for architectural preservation, led a campaign to save Grand Central Terminal in the 1970s. According to Simon, Onassis had the bright idea for her to perform a surprise concert, which was filmed and aired on Lifetime.

Though the concert was available on VHS, this year, the concert was released as a live album, Simon’s second after 1988’s Greatest Hits Live. It feels fitting that this live show has been released, as the legendary singer-songwriter was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Live At Grand Central is a fabulous reminder and testament to Simon’s considerable songwriting talents as well as her strong performing skills (despite her famous issues with stage fright).

The songlist for Live At Grand Central is a great overview of Simon’s greatest hits as well as some choice tunes up to the mid-1990s. Because she was promoting her album Letters Never Sent at the time, Live At Grand Central tends to be dominated by tracks from that record. The result is a bit of a mixed bag. Like most legacy artists who were still recording in the 1990s, Simon’s output definitely dimmed somewhat by that decade. Most of Letters was good, but wouldn’t have held up when compared to her best work of her peak years in the 1970s or even her soundtrack work in the 1980s. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So, the tracks from Letters run the gamut from very good to just okay. On one end, we get the majestic, elegiac stunners like “Touched By The Sun” or “Like A River,” which Simon wrote for her late mother. These songs are inspired by two women who met a great deal to Simon and she was able to create lovely tributes to her love for them; on the other hand, “Halfway Around The World” and the title track are typically esoteric, odd sonic experiments that Simon sometimes indulged in, which saw her craft formless tunes bereft of a melody or hook. In these songs, it sounds like she’s trying to find the key.

Even if commercial concerns dictate that Live at Grand Central features selections from Letters Never Sent, we also get a huge helping of her classics from the 1970s and 1980s. Strangely enough, we don’t get to hear some iconic hits like “You’re So Vain,” “Nobody Does It Better,” or “You Belong to Me.” But that’s fine, because an artist with a track record like Carly Simon has more than enough hits. And yes, we may miss her sneering “You’re So Vain,” but instead, she gives us a cool version of her 1980 hit “Jesse,” which is often compared to “Vain” and shines because it doesn’t have to compete with the more familiar hit. And Simon wisely includes arguably her best hit, “Anticipation,” which gives the singer a chance to show off her great singing chops. And no Carly Simon show would be complete without the AM radio standard “Haven’t Got Time For The Pain.”

To end Live at Grand Central, Simon chooses a pair of tunes from the 1980s that were collaborations with Mike Nichols: “Coming Around Again” from Heartburn and the Oscar-winning “Let The River Run” from Working Girl. The latter tune became an official anthem of New York and it’s a stirring and moving way to end the show, paying tribute to the special venue for her show as well as tribute to the amazing city. “Let The River Run” has echoes of gospel music and the arrangement for the show pushes those churchy influences to the forefront by having the divine backup vocalists prominent on the performance. The song was a rallying cry for the working woman—the underpaid, undervalued desk jockeys who made the trek into the steel towers of Manhattan to their jobs, often performing miracles without being properly appreciated. Singing the song at a surprise show in Grand Central Terminal seems very apt and appropriate, as the women that Simon wrote “Let The River Run” for pass through every day.

When being honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Simon’s influence was celebrated, particularly when we hear the music of performers like Sara Bareilles, Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos, and Taylor Swift. She has a library of music that speaks to generations of women who turned to music to nurse pain, resentments, angst, and joy. Despite her oversized talent, there’s something democratic about Carly Simon: she’s relatable because she writes about things that regular women felt and were going through. That is why it’s too perfect that she chose to serenade regular women with a pop-up concert in a busy train terminal in New York City.

Rating: B+

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