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Paul Simon gives big Kansas City crowd a lively snapshot of an illustrious career

Paul Simon performed in a sold-out show Saturday at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City.
Paul Simon performed in a sold-out show Saturday at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City. Special to the Star

Paul Simon has a music catalog that goes back to the mid-1960s, a discography that comprises 18 albums and explores a wide variety of music genres and styles.

So when he rolls into town for a concert, like he did Saturday night at Starlight Theatre, he has a deep well from which to draw. Saturday’s show, before nearly 8,000 fans, lasted more than two hours and featured more than two dozen songs, and though the set list may not have been as panoramic as it could have been, Simon still managed to render an impressive picture of a career that now spans six decades.

After his stellar band/orchestra, which included longtime guitarist Vincent Nguini, opened the show with an instrumental, Simon took the stage, and they rolled into “The Boy in the Bubble,” a track from “Graceland,” the evening’s unofficial signature album.

From there, the set list bounded about his catalog: to a horn-fed, organ-fueled rendition of “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover,” a hit from an album recorded in 1975, then to “Dazzling Blue” — two songs recorded 36 years apart that nonetheless meshed seamlessly.

Simon’s band was a juggernaut, an ensemble that included a few multi-instrumentalists who added heft and might to the rearranged and altered versions of some of his best-known songs. There were many horns, some reed instruments, gusts of organ, guitar, accordion and keyboards and lots of percussion.

Most of the songs, including hits like “Slip Sliding Away,” “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” were reconfigured, mostly by changes in meter, but also reinvigorated by new instrumentation while staying faithful to the original melodies.

Simon had a story or two to deliver, including an invigorating experience in the Amazon, where he drank the herbal brew ayahuasca and then suffered its consequences. But mostly he played a lot of songs and let the music do the talking. He will turn 75 in October, but his voice remained impressively strong throughout the show.

Other highlights: “That Was Your Mother,” a “Graceland” track that was given an extra zydeco jolt; “Rewrite,” which followed a congratulations from Simon, a diehard Yankees fan, to the Kansas City Royals and their fans for their World Series championship; the swinging, big-band version of “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”; the hyper-percussive rendition of “Obvious Child”; “Homeward Bound,” which received a country-shuffle treatment; “El Condor Pasa,” rendered as a haunting instrumental; jubilant versions of “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al,” two more “Graceland” songs; and the bare-boned rendition of “The Sound of Silence,” which closed the show. That song goes back more than 50 years, but felt as relevant as everything that preceded it.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

SET LIST

Instrumental; The Boy in the Bubble; Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover; Dazzling Blue; That Was Your Mother; Rewrite; Going to Kansas City (instrumental); Slip Sliding Away; Mother and Child Reunion; Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard; Spirit Voices; Obvious Child; Stranger to Stranger; Homeward Bound; El Condor Pasa (instrumental); Duncan; The Werewolf; The Cool, Cool River; Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes; You Can Call Me Al; Wristband; Late in the Evening; Still Crazy After All These Years; Gumboots; The Boxer; The Sound of Silence

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