Paul Simon: Most Grateful
Highlights of the set: “The Boxer,” “René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”
The first thing you notice about Paul Simon when he walks onstage is that he is a rather small man. While his vagrant croons and wallowing whistles in “You Can Call Me Al” and “Cecilia” are, in themselves, expansive and uncompromising, the musician himself doesn’t take up much space physically.
However, at 77 years of age, and with more than 60 years of musical performance and 16 Grammys under his belt, height is something that doesn’t get in the way of Simon commanding a stage — and charismatically capturing hearts along the way.
Simon walked onto the Lands End Stage, the festival’s biggest, for a two-hour set on the final day of Outside Lands with a casual, self-assured wave. Wearing a knowing grin, he began “Late in the Evening.” The audience’s reaction was immediate and visceral — an elderly woman dressed in tie-dye kicked her legs rhythmically, a couple bundled up against the coming night grasped hands in awe, and more than a few rowdy young adults let loose with screams of “Paul!”
It was the start of a set that spanned the storied musical career (from There Goes Rhymin’ Simon in 1973 to So Beautiful or So What in 2011) of one of the definitive folk and rock singers of the 20th century.
There was a certain refinement and formality to the performance that were less evident in the sets of the festival’s younger headliners. The performance assumed a symphonic quality; Simon, of course, was our affable conductor, gesturing to the musicians, indicating meter, giving an approving nod here and there. And his orchestra — which included the youthful yet sophisticated six-piece chamber ensemble yMusic — obliged gracefully, making for some extraordinarily elegant and soothing Simon selections.
Mystical ballad “René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War” was one of such gems, as well as one for which Simon offered a contextual story about the song’s title. He was rehearsing for the Bread and Roses Heritage Festival with Joan Baez in the ‘80s, Simon said, when he came across a photo of the same name featuring the surrealist painter and his wife. “I thought, ‘What a great name for a song!’ … And since he was a surrealist, the song could be about anything,” he beamed.
For all the elegance of such slower numbers, during which the ensemble gathered around Simon in a tidy semicircle, the headliner also appeased the audience with some of the biggest hits of his pop career, including “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “You Can Call Me Al.” These hits underlined Simon’s varied team of renowned accompaniment. Nigerian guitarist Biodun Kuti shone in particular, assuming the slides and pull-offs of many of Simon’s South African-inspired selections with a wide grin.
Anybody who had been following coverage of Simon’s “Homeward Bound” farewell tour (he appeared at the Fox Theater for a pop-up show just two days prior to this performance) knew that his set had two encores built into it. When the lights went out and the artist gave a prolonged wave 20 minutes before his Outside Lands set was scheduled to wrap up, nobody — not even audience members who hadn’t heard of Paul Simon before that night — was fooled.
What was surprising was when Simon reappeared onstage accompanied by an elderly, mustachioed gentleman — whom he introduced as Bob Weir, founding member of the Grateful Dead. Side by side, cradling their respective guitars, the two proceeded to play “The Boxer” in a rendition replete with nostalgia and a sense of bidding goodbye.
Paul Simon’s time in the spotlight may be coming to an end, but this performance marked just one of the many stops on his farewell tour. On Sunday, the musical veteran demonstrated a commitment to generations to come, including those whom he himself may not ever see. The net proceeds from his artist fee, he noted, will be donated to San Francisco Parks Alliance and Friends of the Urban Forest. “Let’s save our planet, yes!” Simon rallied. One of the night’s selections was especially fitting in this regard: “The Cool Cool River” off of his 1990 album The Rhythm of the Saints saw Simon intone, “I believe in the future / We shall suffer no more / Maybe not in my lifetime / But in yours, I feel sure.”
— Ryan Tuozzolo
Anderson .Paak: Most wow-worthy
Highlights of the set: “Make It Better,” “Come Down,” “Bubblin”
For some, playing an instrument can be a heavy feat. For Anderson .Paak, masterfully working the drums while flawlessly hitting every vocal run, it looks like a stroll through Golden Gate Park. Headlining the Sutro stage on Sunday’s Outside Lands lineup, the Oxnard casanova turned the stage into a big-band daydream with a sensational performance.
As flames rose from the stage, the multitalented artist took a seat behind the dynamic drum kit at center stage. The Free Nationals, .Paak’s full band, set up to fill the entirety of the stage, always giving audience members something to be watching throughout the set. Starting with “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” from the 2016 album Malibu, the charisma of each performer ran faster than anyone watching could keep up.
.Paak played the Outside Lands festival back in 2016, but he said that the last time he performed, he was “on some designer things,” and he has wanted to come back ever since. This statement charmingly led into “Come Down,” a high-energy, bass-heavy showcase of the singer’s undeniable talent on the drums.
Another percussion-strutting moment of the night, “Tints” was full of old-school glam and luxurious lounge piano background sounds. As the endearing cowbell shined through the harmonies and subtle guitar strums, .Paak’s big dance-hit sent the crowd bumping to the astral blend of pop and jazz.
And this only continued with “King James,” a song that truly demonstrates the range of .Paak’s vocal strength. No matter what .Paak was doing, between grooving out on the drums to strutting the expanse of the stage, he never faltered — if there’s anything close to a perfect performance, .Paak knows how to deliver it.
The performance of “6 Summers” led one of the more serious musical discussions, as .Paak’s energetic movements didn’t distract from the message the artist was conveying in the song. While massive balloons surfed over the crowd in quirky shapes, .Paak waxed poetic about our current political climate as he raised a powerful first over his head with the members of his band.
Since this day was the birthday of The Free Nationals’ keyboardist Ron Tnava Avant, a highlighting solo was in order. This was all charming until Avant switched microphones, oblivious to the fact that the mic wasn’t on for the entirety of the song. So while the thought was nice, fans only got to watch the singer mouth lyrics behind the keyboard for the second half of his shining moment.
In a romantic switch, the downbeat of “Make It Better” carried a colorful palette of R&B tones and jazzy vocal influences. The lights sunk down into a deep blue over the crowd, shadowing the artist in front of a vibrant orange sunset on the screen behind. Audience members yelled the dreamy lyrics from every inch of Lindley Meadow, the loudness echoing from the front of the stage.
As the lyrics of “Suede” go, “smooth as a motherfucker” defined the entirety of this performance. This particular song is by NxWorries, one of .Paak’s many side-projects, but it seemed as though the crowd still knew every word regardless.
While .Paak has been in the music business for decades, the song that put him back on the radar last year was “Bubblin,” which he performed between columns of fire that shot up from the stage. In a crowd-raging sea of people, .Paak amassed a powerful network of people bonding over the hype of the music, whether they knew it previously or not.
To end on a sentimental note, .Paak closed out his set with a performance of Mac Miller’s “Dang!” on which he was featured in 2016. As a photo of the two artists graced the backdrop, .Paak took a bow with his band members at the face of the stage. At music festivals, it’s likely that not every member of an audience is a die-hard fan, but .Paak definitely made some conversions with this performance.
— Skylar De Paul
Ryan Tuozzolo is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].
Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.