When one thinks of the “Golden Age” of rock, the middle sixties to the middle seventies, a cornucopia of big name, big time acts usually surfaces in discussion. The big three, of course: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Some impressive but undoubtedly second tier acts follow: The Who, Cream, Black Sabbath. Solo acts like Bowie, Elton John, Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix stand out. One musical act that seems to get lost in the glare of these musical supernovas was a pair of soft-spoken, poetic friends …rom Long Island, New York: Simon and Garfunkel. Though their light didn’t burn as brilliantly as The Beatles, or as long as The Stones, Simon and Garfunkel belong in the stratosphere of singer/songwriters, right alongside Lennon / McCartney and Paige / Plant. In their relatively short time together, they authored three of the top fifty songs in the history of recorded music: Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Sound of Silence, and America. That’s leaving OUT big time songs like The Boxer and Mrs. Robinson, both of which are probably in the top 100.
They were the band for the Greenwich Village crowd, the new beatniks, smoking pot in tiny jazz bars, listening to poetry and playing bongos, not quite hippies but not exactly all-Americans, either. Simon and Garfunkel had an intimate, intelligent brand of music, whose gentle melodies and striking lyrics really struck a chord with the bohemian set, and spread, grass-roots style, to liberal arts college crowds, radio stations, eventually enjoying low-key but widespread popularity. For a myriad of reasons, though, the pair decided to part ways, much to the disappointment of their fans. Paul Simon went on to a highly successful solo career for more than two decades…Garfunkel basically turned into a punchline. Ten years after they split, Simon and Garfunkel gave their fans exactly what they wanted: a reunion.
For one night, in front of 100,000 weed-mellowed, older and wiser former hippies in New York’s Central Park, and for free, Simon and Garfunkel shared the stage and revisited many of their classic tunes, including Scarborough Fair and Feelin’ Groovy. They also sing a number of Paul Simon’s solo hits, like 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and Slip Sliding Away. At times, I almost felt bad for the Larry Fine, jack-o-lantern-esque Artie (and no, not because he STILL can’t find a way to make his hair look ‘cool’). He must have felt like he was auditioning for the folk-gnome’s backup band at times, particularly when relegated to sitting off to the side. He may have the last laugh, though…seen Mr. Simon lately? He looks like a deal with the devil just expired. He’s exploded into Paul Simon’s grandfather. I wonder if there’s a bizarre alternate universe where Garfunkel became the star, and the Red Sox won a ton of World Series. Nah, that’d be too weird.
Joking aside, Concert in Central Park is a great way to spend 88 minutes listening to fine vintage music. Get your significant other on the couch with a bottle of wine (or whatever vice you enjoy), put your arm around him or her, and sing the familiar tunes when you know them. My minor complaint is that the disc itself seems strangely mastered to me: why more than one song on a chapter? We’re looking at twenty two songs, but only sixteen chapters. I can understand during numbers like “Kodachrome / Maybellene,” where one song is sort of in between the others, but doesn’t “America” deserve its own track? Either way, the track listing is as follows:
- Mrs. Robinson
- Homeward Bound
- America / Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
- Scarborough Fair / April Come She Will
- Wake Up Little Suzi / Still Crazy After All These Years
- American Tune / Late in the Evening
- Slip Sliding Away / A Heart in New York
- Kodachrome / Maybellene
- Bridge Over Troubled Water
- 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
- The Boxer
- Old Friends / Bookends / Feeling Groovy
- Sound of Silence
- Late In The Evening Reprise
Given the age of the program, better than twenty years, I was absolutely astonished by the video quality. I couldn’t penalize it for being in non-anamorphic full frame, as that was the original format, and that leaves very little to criticize. Concert in Central Park has a very polished, live-broadcast television look to it, one that’s almost digital in nature (though digital recording wasn’t en vogue in 1981). There are no artifact issues, no edge enhancements, no jagged lines…not a single authoring error. The colors are entirely natural, except for the heavy rouge on Simon and Garfunkel, and really pop off the screen. The only area of even mild concern is in the black depth. During shots of the crowd, the lack of detail fails to capture the scope of the audience. As a hidden benefit, though, it does hide the embarrassingly disorganized dancing.
Sadly, menus are not animated, and do not feature sound.
Here’s where I was a little disappointed: Fox offers only the original Dolby 2.0 track to support Concert. While the clarity is just as good, if not better, than the CD, it can’t capture the effect of the sea of humanity that gathered to witness it. The crowd noise is forced to cram into the two forward channels, and seems somewhat muted behind the music, and would have been much better served had this been remastered into even a 4.0 track. As it stands, though, we do witness some subtle stereophonics, not a surprise when both men are standing side by side. The music itself, a wide array of instruments from synthesizer to horn sections to alto sax, sounds phenomenal; the small format just can’t capture the enormity of the atmosphere.
The extras package features the same number of supplements as Garfunkel has hits from his solo albums: zilch. Weren’t there any interviews or retrospectives? It isn’t like either of these guys is extremely busy!
Just like the back of the box says, this is an obvious “must” for the Simon and Garfunkel fans. It’s widely considered a landmark concert event, and it’s perfectly captured on this technically well-assembled DVD. Really, anyone who considers themselves fans of “classic rock” or anything out of the golden age of modern music ought to give this one a look, especially at the attractive asking price. It’s a shame it’s devoid of any extras, though, because that keeps this one from being in the upper echelon of music-based DVD releases. For the masses, this may be more of a rental, especially if you own the identical CD.