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Age-defying Paul Simon plays seemingly endless string of hits in Clearwater concert

Paul Simon bounded through a two-hour set list Monday at Ruth Eckerd Hall. He was backed by a versatile eight-piece band as he worked his way through hits from Graceland and his newest So Beautiful or So What.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Paul Simon bounded through a two-hour set list Monday at Ruth Eckerd Hall. He was backed by a versatile eight-piece band as he worked his way through hits from Graceland and his newest So Beautiful or So What.

CLEARWATER — Maybe it's my rapidly ascending age, but I find it both perplexing and wickedly unfair that Paul Simon is 70 years old. Crusty salts like Bob Dylan and Randy Newman make for fine and surly elder songsmen. But the wee spritely half of Simon & Garfunkel has always been such a youthful fount of energy — boyish in vocal, lyric and percussive spirit.

Of course, I seem to be much more mortally torn up about this fact than Rhymin' Simon himself, whose two-hour-plus show at a sold-out Ruth Eckerd Hall Monday — a gig that sold out in seven minutes and set a box office record for the venue — was very much the tireless work of a rock star who's kicked Father Time to the curb.

Backed by an expressive eight-piece band adept at myriad instruments (need a washboard solo, you got it!), Simon unveiled a seemingly endless string of solo hits, clever covers and a few from those old duo days. Almost every selection on the buoyant set list — from the opening Afropop of The Boy in the Bubble to the crisp closing New York City blues of Still Crazy After All These Years — was intricately layered but ultimately singable.

And to think, he never looked the least bit winded. Before introducing a track from his 2011 album So Beautiful or So What, he upped the sarcasm and bellowed: "Imagine the idea of writing a new song at this age? Why, you should be crawling around in diapers!"

Ha ha. Not yet. Not even close.

For being such a meticulous perfectionist in the studio, Simon allowed his onstage crew to jam and improvise on their own, each artist often playing above, below and within a song. That made the South American rumble of The Obvious Child and the zydeco twirl of That Was Your Mother, the latter from 1986 masterpiece Graceland, both jarring and hypnotizing.

It was also fun as heck. And it should noted that for the five Graceland tracks that were featured, Simon often uncorked a lil' two-step shuffle onstage. For the awesomely expansive Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, the guy was downright boogieing!

If there was a downside to the show, it was that Simon's more straight-forward pop offerings — Mother and Child Reunion, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Kodachrome — seemed almost pedestrian and dated in nature. Of course, that didn't stop the 2,180 in house from singing along.

He returned for several encores, and even called an audible when one boisterous fan requested Father and Daughter. There was no tricking this band, though, and after some reshuffling of instruments, the paternal request shimmered.

Such was the full-band thunder of the show, when Simon sent his men away and stepped into a sole spotlight with just an acoustic guitar, the result was the highlight of the night: a pin-drop recitation of The Sound of Silence. For all the years he's beckoned for his old friend darkness, Simon has always found the light. See you at 80, Paul.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com and (727) 893-8467. Follow him on Twitter (@seandalypoplife) and Facebook (facebook.com/seandaly.tampabay).

Age-defying Paul Simon plays seemingly endless string of hits in Clearwater concert 12/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 11:30am]

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