THANKING THE CROWD for coming to the show is standard fare at any concert. It is the right and polite thing to do. But it isn't very often that you hear a performer say "it was my pleasure."
When Paul Simon walked off the stage at the Baltimore Arena last night, it was hard to tell who was happier with the show -- he or his adoring audience of more than 10,000.
Unlike 1987's overwrought "Graceland" production, there were no troupes of African dancers, no long-winded breaks in the sounds of Simon and no walking away with a feeling of unfulfillment.
Oh, he brought friends again this time, a cast of 17 immensely talented singers and musicians, and together they did what they do best: entertain the masses.
Offering an almost-too-generous portion of music spanning four decades (two hours, 24 songs) Simon truly brought the music to life with gorgeous reworkings of classics and rousing deliveries of his more recent works.
The monstrous stage was littered with various percussion instruments and five players along the back, but Simon's tiny frame hardly seemed swallowed up by it all.
It was that enlarged section that provided a very necessary edge to the bouncy numbers such as "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard" and "You Can Call Me Al."
In fact it was following "Al," which was played toward the end of the main set, that Simon said, "Wow, I'm glad I finally got you standing up" and proceeded to lead his orchestra through the song once again in its entirety.
But the crowd didn't need to dance to prove it was having fun.
Simon, who performs tonight at the Capital Centre in Largo, Md., received several standing ovations after the crowd had remained silent during the songs -- after the new single "Proof," which was delivered with frantic work from his four-man brass section; following "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which began with a gospel sound and piano accompaniment and ended with a calypso beat; and through the five encores, "Hearts And Bones," "Love Me Like A Rock," "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes," "America" and "The Boxer."
Another highlight was a lilting reading of "Still Crazy After All These Years," on which Simon was helped brilliantly by saxophonist Michael Brecker.
Though he spoke to the crowd just twice, Simon smiled almost constantly throughout, playing a variety of handheld percussion instruments and, at other times, a guitar, as he boldly re-phrased the lyrics to songs like "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover," "Cecilia" and "Kodachrome."
Midway through the set, a fan in the front gave Simon a homemade necklace with a bell to wear and he proudly displayed it, put it on and said, "Now I feel bonded with the people."