But is it Art?

Art Garfunkel, Bristol Colston Hall, September 10th 2014

Is it Art? The question that’s haunted many a critic over the years. But it’s even more relevant in this instance. Four years ago, Art Garfunkel, once half of legendary duo Simon &…suffered from a vocal paresis which left him essentially unable to sing. He’s now in the middle of a long tour, just him and a quite wonderful guitarist. Is the voice still there? Has he still got the magic? Is it…Art?

We review Art Garfunkel's live show at Bristol's Colston Hall

We review Art Garfunkel’s live show at Bristol’s Colston Hall

You can tell when you’re visiting a concert aimed at the more mature gig-goer. Lots of perfume, lots of real ale, and more pertinently, a 7:30 start-time that is so firmly adhered to that when yours truly rolls up 5 minutes late he’s not admitted, and has to suffer “The Boxer”, the first of the night’s classics, through a thick black curtain.

When I’m finally admitted, Art’s (Ed – must have seen the latecomer from Music Eyz – sorry Art) in a bit of a grump. The lean, white Afro’d folkie of the 60’s is now the slightly stooped, occasionally coughing, waistcoated curmudgeon, complaining at lights on the monitors, occasional people coming in through the side doors, and once losing the thread of an anecdote because he’s distracted. But then…but then…

Perfect Moment” is from his 2002 album “Everything Waits to be noticed”. I don’t know it, I’m not familiar with it but it’s an ethereal experience. There are times in the night when Art isn’t fully himself, still powering through his illness “in public” as he puts it, but this song is transcendent. It’s not a hit, not one of the crowd-pleasers, but maybe the first time that he completely puts himself in the audience’s hands. And we relax. It’s going to be OK.

Poem On The Underground,” “Scarborough Fair”… if you remember flares and Frank Cannon and deeleyboppers then you are in heaven. His voice has definitely changed – sometimes there’s a sense that songs have been truncated to give his vocal chords a rest – but the high notes are still there, the ability all present.

The first half of the set finishes with “Bright Eyes”. I bloody hate “Bright Eyes.” It ruined six consecutive weeks of Top Of The Pops in 1979. The height of post-punk crippled by a bunch of poorly animated rabbits…so of course Mr Garfunkel plays it, and of course, it’s wonderful. The lights dim to an evening purple, Art crouches and sings at a 45 degree angle to the audience, and the rabbits are nowhere to be seen. It’s a lovely end to the first half.

Memo to Colston Hall: find a different way to serve intermission drinks. You shouldn’t have to queue for 15 minutes to get a drink then down it in 5 in order to get back lest the main act demands you be locked out. That is all. (Ed – Sounds like it wasn’t only Art in a grump)

With the second half, Art’s Mo has firmly located his Jo. He’s no longer a young man but every now and then the youth shines through the bookish adult. You’ll get a glimpse of the face that slew a billion 16-year-old hearts in the sixties. And his voice…like I said, it’s a little different, and sometimes he sounds like someone doing an Art Garfunkel impression, but when it shines it shines, it’s unmistakably the singer of “Homeward Bound” and “The Sound of Silence” and an especially wonderful “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her”.

I haven’t mentioned the interludes; the songs are interspersed with conversation and poetry, not too long, not too bothersome, and usually very funny. It’s billed as an “Intimate” evening and whilst that’s a daring option for a double-entendre loving British audience, that’s kind of what you get.

You might be gathering, I had a great evening. Tickets weren’t cheap, and the whole event was over by 9:30pm, but it reminded me of seeing Brian Wilson at £50 a ticket ten years ago. (NB : Art’s tickets were not that expensive.) I had to justify the £50: “I never saw Picasso paint”, I replied, “But I can see Brian Wilson sing, and that’s just as important.” Tonight had the same feel about it; a terrific chance to catch up with a legend, and watch him do his thing. Art’s not a young man, and this may be our last chance to see him. I completely recommend the experience.

Is it Art? F*ck yes It’s Art.

Review by Steve Noble

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