On January 22, 1967, two men and a single guitar drew a sold-out crowd to Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) in Lincoln Center for what's now one of the best-known concerts from Simon and Garfunkel's career together. In fact, this and the post-duo Concert in Central Park are the only performances you can hear without resorting to bootlegs, and the fact that this one took place mid-career is something special.
The tension present in the 1981 concert in Central Park isn't in this recording; this is from before artistic differences and career choices got the better of their friendship.
This is from the heat of the moment, a set list straight from the era rather than constructed in retrospect, a collection of now-obscure album tracks that audiences of the mid-60s would have recognized, and brand new songs from an album and a single the group had released only two months earlier (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme and "A Hazy Shade Of Winter"), and songs that weren't fully formed yet ("You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies").
This is about two 24-year-olds in cable knit sweaters with more confidence and stage presence than their ages should allow.
This is 1967. Enjoy the ride.
My copy of Live From New York City, 1967 is in the limited edition packaging, with a prismatic background replacing the white areas of the black-and-white package art and text, and the insert glued to the inside of the heavy, fingerprint-prone cardboard cover. The album's liner notes are exceptional and include a few nice black-and-white photos. Opening the case for the first time seals the deal as you see the black CD with their names printed in white, and the ampersand and the album name in the silver of the CD itself. The presentation is very understated and elegant.
Early in the concert, we're treated to an awfully clear, sincere version of "Sparrow," followed by an especially gentle "Homeward Bound." A little further along, they enunciate everything really nicely in "The Dangling Conversation," and actually in quite a lot of things - it seems to happen more frequently in live performances than in album cuts.
I know I gush over "Anji" in reviews every chance I get, so bear with me, but it's a nice chance to concentrate on just the guitar, the only instrument present aside from their voices. And it's a beautiful rendition, too. "I Am A Rock" also sounds really nice here, though I can't quite put my finger on why.
In the home stretch, it's almost like we're back in Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m. again with an acoustic guitar version of "The Sound Of Silence." This brings it to something like five or six distinct versions of the song, and I still hold that the acoustic versions are much better than the more popular "rockified" version from Sounds Of Silence. The best part of this particular performance of it is that the guitar doesn't get lost under the voices as it does in the original; the rock version has an influence on how strongly and loudly Paul plays his guitar, so the strong beats and loud melody and chords are there (note especially the end of the last verse, during "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls") without having to put up with electric guitar and drums.
Five songs from the concert also appeared in the 1997 boxed set Old Friends. However, only four of those made it onto the actual concert album. For reasons that no one seems to be aware of, "Red Rubber Ball" was left off this collection. You've probably heard "Red Rubber Ball" on oldies radio; Paul Simon co-wrote it (something I should have realized much sooner than I did, as the lyrics are very much in his style), and it was recorded and taken to the charts by a one-hit wonder group called The Cyrkle. I can't imagine why that would have anything to do with leaving it off this disc, given that it was included in Old Friends, but I guess it's possible. Anyway, it's a real shame, since it's a wonderful, lively, quite rare recording, and its absence is my only major qualm with this album.
I also have one minor qualm, and that's the fluctuating volume on the CD. It might just be an effect of the recording conditions, or maybe the age of the original recording, but on occasion, the volume softens all by itself for no reason.
What's great is that the boys give commentary on some of the songs, often concerning what sparked Paul to write certain songs. I love commentary, as it's not something you get from normal albums.
Paul introduces an early version of "You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies" with "Here's a song I've almost finished." The crowd responds to the song with polite but unenthusiastic applause. It doesn't contain the "Indications indicate" interlude that it later took on, but it's of note because it's the only song at the concert that no one would have heard before. "A Hazy Shade Of Winter" didn't appear on an album until over a year later, but the single was released in early November 1967 and had only recently fallen off the Billboard charts, so it's a sure bet people had already heard it.
Art tells the story of Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m.'s cover art as a lead-in to "A Poem On The Underground Wall." It's a funny story, and it's weird to think that a good chunk of the audience probably was familiar with that picture. Art's vocal falterings as he speaks ("um," "ah") and the laughter of the audience at all the right places are great reminders of the high level of intimacy between the performers and the audience on this occasion.
Art talks about the time put into writing and recording "The Dangling Conversation," and he also remarks that "The Dangling Conversation" was their favorite song in their repertoire at the time. Almost two years later, in October 1968, he said that "Overs" (from Bookends) had been his "favorite song for quite some time." It's interesting, because the two songs are actually quite similar thematically - beautiful but sad, dealing with stagnation in relationships that you want desperately not to stagnate.
Near the end, as the audience shouts for more, Paul smiles and says, "Just a little kid, you cannot yell like that at me." Then, with true childlike glee, he responds to an audience member's request with a delighted "'Hey, Schoolgirl!' Who said that?" before launching into "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her," performed to angelic perfection in a solo by Art.
Overall, 4½ out of 5 stars. Despite the absence of "Red Rubber Ball," this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It's the only full-length live recording in the S&G published canon that's from any point during their career. It's a great experience and a rare treat - definitely worth listening to.