Art Garfunkel referred to himself as a “pop warrior” in a spoken-word interlude during his captivating performance at Helzberg Hall on Saturday. The renowned vocalist proved to about 1,000 admirers that while he may have endured deep emotional wounds and a distressing physical setback, he’s battle-scarred but far from broken.
Contending that “I’ve been through hell and back,” Garfunkel, 75, addressed several of the challenges he’s overcome, including the temporary decimation of his primary instrument. He explained that “I lost the voice in 2010” and proudly insisted that “the voice came back.”
His assertion wasn’t entirely accurate. As one of the defining musicians of his generation, Garfunkel’s tender tenor added musical sweetening and emotional heft to Simon & Garfunkel’s hits. On Saturday, Garfunkel prefaced a rendition of the classic 1970 anthem “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with the caveat that “I’m not going to give you the big high notes at the end.”
No matter. The humble arrangement suited Garfunkel’s reconfigured voice. He may no longer hit the high notes — he also skipped a few words in the upper register of “Scarborough Fair” — but the slightly frayed and faded quality of his instrument made his winsome crooning all the more compelling.
Flanked by keyboardist Dave Mackay and guitarist Tab Laven, Garfunkel perched on a stool as he sang, told stories and shared excerpts from his forthcoming book “What Is It All But Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man,” a title that he acknowledged may be “artsy-fartsy.”
Referring to notes on the backs of envelopes, Garfunkel’s anecdotes ranged from a tale about serenading cattle in Pennsylvania with “Ol’ Man River” to first realizing the power of his voice when he brought men to tears when singing at a synagogue as a boy, experiences that confirmed that “there is an emotionality in this lucky gift in my throat.”
Combined with his battered voice, Garfunkel’s remarkable expressiveness deepened the anguish and defiance of Paul Simon’s lyrics to “The Boxer.” His careful phrasing on a version of “Bright Eyes” that featured prerecorded backing tracks elevated easy listening fare into high art.
Garfunkel’s singing strengthened as the evening progressed. The rousing interpretation of “The Sound of Silence” near the conclusion of his 90-minute show (not including a 20-minute intermission) contained several notes of rarified purity. It was the sound of a pop warrior who remains committed to fighting the good fight.
April Come She Will; The Boxer; Perfect Moment; A Heart in New York; All I Know (instrumental); A Poem on the Underground Wall; Scarborough Fair; The Side of a Hill; Homeward Bound; Let It Be Me; Real Emotional Girl; For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her; Bright Eyes; The Sound of Silence; Kathy's Song; Bridge Over Troubled Water; Goodnight My Love; Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.