For the first time ever, Paul Simon performed his languorous, lightly political 2011 song “Question for the Angels” on The Late Show on Wednesday night with help from the revered guitarist Bill Frisell. The song appeared on Simon’s album So Beautiful or So What.
Simon and Frisell were blissfully unhurried. Simon picked gently and sang in his signature conversational tone, arcing the verses in unexpected directions. Frisell played elegantly, with shivers of electric guitar in the song’s quieter moments. “Who believes in angels?” Simon wondered. “Fools and pilgrims all over the world.”
Simon begins touring in late May and said the profits from his summer shows will be donated to E.O. Wilson’s biodiversity foundation. In the interview with Colbert, he also said that he’s at work on a new album that will allow him to revise songs he previously recorded – including “Question for the Angels.”
“It’s a rare opportunity for a writer to go back and reexamine a piece of work that was good but maybe could have been better,” Simon explained. “I’m picking out songs that I really liked that I thought were well written and not noticed – maybe there were other hits on the album or something. I’m recording them again with different musicians, and at times I change the lyrics if I think it’s better to change a verse.”
Demonstrating the value of returning to old songs with a new mindset, Simon and Colbert made amusing changes to the lyrics for “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” transforming the buoyant original into a song of doom and gloom that suits the current geopolitical climate.
“Kellyanne Conway makes no sense, and even if Trump goes we’re stuck with Mike Pence,” Simon and Colbert sang. The two ended eerily, comically, on the requisite: “Nevertheless, all is groovy.”