Simon & Garfunkel began a long-awaited U.S. reunion tour Saturday night at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival with a striking entrance: the duo were escorted to the stage by New Orleans’ Da Souljas Brass Band and the guitars led the charge into “Hazy Shade of Winter.” Fairly quickly though, it became clear that Paul Simon was carrying the vocal efforts through “I Am a Rock,” “America,” “Keep the Customer Satisfied” and “Slip Slidin’ Away.” When fans in the front row gestured that Art Garfunkel was low in the mix, he sadly admitted his vocals were strained: “It’s not that the mike is not on. It’s that the voice is a little elusive right now.”
The duo upped the energy level when they inserted Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” into “Mrs. Robinson,” and Simon hammered out the Bo Diddley guitar pattern on his acoustic. The pair structured the set like their show at New York’s Madison Square Garden in October 2009, when they performed as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary concerts, and halfway through, Garfunkel took a break and Simon cranked out songs from Graceland with an animation he hadn’t brought to the duo’s material.
After returning to the stage, Garfunkel’s voice deteriorated quickly, missing harmonies in “My Little Town” and his signature high notes in “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a song that was resonant in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Still, his game effort at the final notes brought cheers from the crowd and a laughing smile and a hug from Simon — one of the few displays of affection between the duo onstage.
The encore of “The Sound of Silence” and “The Boxer” heightened the air of nostalgia as the pair sang songs of youthful alienation long after they were youthful, but the concluding “Cecilia” brought some welcome energy to the show. The song’s carnival air was aided by Grammy-winning trumpet player Terence Blanchard, who joined them onstage along with clarinet player Dr. Michael White and zydeco bandleader Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr. With the band providing ample backup, Simon & Garfunkel finished strong, leaving their fans savoring the sweetness of their songs at least one last time.