Simon & Garfunkel’s legendary 1981 Central Park concert was one for the books. On September 18, 1981 the duo, accompanied by a full band with a horn section, played for over 500,000 people in the historic NY landmark. Unlike the concerts held at Rumsey Playfield over the summer, this show was held throughout the entire park, and it was free. Another reason why this concert was so historic was due to it being the first live performance held during Simon & Garfunkel’s short-lived reunion in the 1980s. The concert was broadcast on premium network HBO, and proceeds from the merchandising, television and video rights were donated to the city’s parks commission.
This show is filled to the brim with many great numbers from throughout the duo’s golden era. Classics like “Mrs. Robinson”, “Homeward Bound,” “The Sound of Silence” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” were all part of the set list from that magical day. In addition, a large quantity of the songs performed were from Paul Simon’s solo career, such as “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “The Late Great Johnny Ace.” (The latter wasn’t even released on a studio album until two years later, on the Paul Simon album Hearts and Bones.) Only one of the tracks performed that evening was from Art Garfunkel’s solo career, the Gallagher and Lyle penned “A Heart in New York.” That particular number was from the album Scissors Cut, considered one of Garfunkel’s weaker solo efforts.
Although this set includes lesser-known cuts from the duo’s storied history, the better-known tracks from the 1960’s Monterey and Woodstock era are what stand out the most. Many of the melodies performed during this show have influenced countless modern folk musicians. Although the term “indie folk” wasn’t part of the musician’s vernacular until much later after this show, it is easy to see how Simon & Garfunkel influenced this current movement with ambient, moody tracks like “Scarborough Fair” and “Sounds of Silence.” Showing the duo’s versatility, the songs “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” definitely seem less like folk by today’s standards and seem to be more equivalent to “soft-rock.”
One of the moments of the show that sticks out the most is the remarkable version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” sung with sentiment and emotion by Art Garfunkel. Backed only by a piano harmony played by Richard Tee, Garfunkel is able to nail the performance, and the audience clearly knows that they are witnessing something historic. In addition “The Boxer” is also very well done here, featuring an additional verse not included on the studio album version. Although the recording is cut off before the end of the show, the majority of the concert was taped, with only part of “Sound of Silence” missing in addition to the reprised version of “Late In The Evening.”
Today, the duo’s influence is still significant. Although the duo haven’t performed together since 2010, Paul Simon’s solo career is in full swing, including a performance at the forthcoming 2016 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. This show should be enough to tide over any Simon & Garfunkel fans waning for a reunion performance.