Fans of Art Garfunkel (of “Simon and Garfunkel” fame) were in no way disappointed when he took to the stage of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion for his recent concert.
Accompanied by the Houston Symphony (Mariusz Smolij, conductor), and by his own small group of outstanding musicians, Garfunkel cast a musical spell with a memorable performance.
Prior to Mr. Garfunkel’s arrival on stage, the symphony set the mood with a dazzling “Rock Around the Clock.” It was interspersed with humorous bits of classical music that even included a sample of the Tchaikovsky “1812 Overture” that had thundered through the Pavilion during the recent July Fourth celebration. The orchestra also performed a breezy and brisk medley of 60’s folk songs including “If I Had a Hammer,” “Kumbaya,” “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and “This Land is Your Land!” Then came a rich tribute to Broadway’s Hello Dolly that would be the envy of any orchestra. With “Before the Parade Passes By” the audience could barely control its collective urge to stand up and march.
There was a symphonic version of Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday,” that began blissfully with delicate accents from the harp. Alternating sections of the orchestra played the lovely theme under the sharp focus of the conductor. There was time for the audience to thoughtfully recall its own “yesterdays,” and then suddenly the piece rose to new heights of rhythmic excitement that carried listeners skyward.
For the kiddies there was a frenetic, fast-paced “The Flinstones Meet the Jetsons” selection, with every spirited note clearly heard in spite of the frenzy. Part one of the program ended with an uproarious Rock-n-Roll set that included some fabulous piano work during “Jail House Rock,” “Hound Dog,” a thrilling “Let’s Go to the Hop,” and a very hyperactive “Monster Mash.” If this had been the old Brooklyn Paramount, they would have been dancing in the aisles. The brighter children on the lawn were doing just that!
Sharply dressed in dark suit and appropriately loose necktie, Garfunkel arrived center stage after the intermission. He opened with the low key “Sad Song” which was gently done. I wondered if this soft, more mature, slightly raspy voice would be up to the task ahead. I would soon learn I had no reason to worry. He sang a “New York” song with which this part-time “Yankee” was unfamiliar. The music pulsed with mysterious rhythms, and then shifted gears to a strong rock beat with dazzling work from his tour band on keyboard, drums, guitar, and mandolin.
The star joked, “Yes, I am the tall, terribly shy Art Garfunkel. I bet this is a whole lot more hair than you thought I’d have!” (His hair looked very much like fans remembered it from the sixties.) But more important, the voice was there, if not with the full vigor of youth, perhaps enriched by the wisdom of maturity. Proof of that was evident in an “I Only Have Eyes For You” that had just the right blend of smoldering mystery to work perfectly with his voice. He performed a “Skywriter” that was full of passion and featured great keyboard work from Teddy Baker. Guitarist, Eric Wesberg, showed his extraordinary banjo skill (opposite Baker on keyboard) in the “Dueling Banjos” number he made famous in the film, Deliverance. Another song, “Cecilia,” followed that blockbuster. It had the kind of rhythmic power I associate with Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album. The keyboard work here was exceptional, and the drummer may have been the best thing since Gene Krupa visited Carnegie Hall with Benny Goodman. There was no printed program, and I regret I could not hear the drummer’s name when announced from the stage during the audience roar that followed his dazzling performance.
Next, a mystical, almost oriental transition totally surprises us when “If I Only Could” emerges. Then, seated on a stool as casually as Perry Como, Garfunkel sang the tender “That’s All I Know.” “Mrs. Robinson” from Hollywood’s The Graduate, was another home run. The “Bridge over Troubled Water” showed the singer’s skill as both poet and visionary. While reaching all the high notes, this quiet, gentle soul was captivating his audience. The crowd roared approval in multiple standing ovations.
“Scarborough Fair” was gently elegant and dream-like. In “Cathy’s Song,” Garfunkel has a boyish innocence and hauntingly smooth vocal power. And then, there was the long awaited “Sounds of Silence,” delivered with all the authority of a seasoned performer. The encore, “Goodnight My Love,” could not have been better.