In 2003 Simon & Garfunkel launched a reunion tour that was an unashamed celebration of their past. The newest song performed was their 1975 reunion hit “My Little Town.” Three years later, Paul Simon is on tour ostensibly in support of his new album Surprise — but with just four new songs sprinkled among the hits he seems to be having trouble moving his concerts away from guaranteed audience pleasers. Granted, the mostly middle-aged crowd that packed New Jersey’s PNC Arts Center last night despite the sweltering heat certainly seemed to enjoy “Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard” and “Mrs. Robinson” significantly more than the new “How Can You Live In The Northeast,” but by nearly ignoring a very strong new album he’s not giving his older fans a chance to realize what a vital artist he still is. It also forced me to sit through the dreadful “Still Crazy After All These Years” for the millionth time, which should be a crime. Set list quibbles aside (and too many hits is certainly an finicky quibble), Simon and his note-perfect band put on a very strong show.
A slowed down “Slip Sliding Away” and a radically reworked “Bridge Over Troubled Water” added some life to the AOR standards. He also dug out the nearly forgotten “Duncan” from his 1972 solo debut (still his strongest post-Simon & Garfunkel album), which was an unexpected treat. Hopefully the next time around they’ll be more surprises — and more songs from Surprise.