Concert Review: Paul Simon Live – 2 April 2013 Sydney Entertainment Centre

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th April 2013.

Many, many moons ago, for my twelfth birthday party, I compiled a wish list of cassettes that I wanted to receive from my family and schoolmates. For the uninitiated, cassettes were the precursor to compact discs and had a tendency to melt in the car on hot days in summer. They were also much harder to use as drink coasters.

My list was varied and contained just as many albums that would be considered classics as embarrassments. For every Crowded House debut album, there was a Rick Astley disaster. For every Kick by INXS, there was a Tiffany album. As always, I will deny owning these terrible albums if asked (I’m still talking to you, Doug, the newspaper guy).

One cassette I loved from the moment I pressed play was Graceland by Paul Simon. My gateway track was the hit single You Can Call Me Al, which featured a music video starring Chevy Chase, back when he was funny (he later became funny again in the hit comedy series Community but sadly left the show last year, which for fans like me wasn’t funny).

Graceland was the amalgam of Simon’s pop and folk roots and his discovery of South African music. Every track is a gem and the album, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, is still on regular rotation in my home and car (on CD even).

So it was with great excitement that I witnessed a 70 year old Paul Simon in concert at the soon-to-be-demolished Sydney Entertainment Centre last Tuesday night. I missed his support act, Rufus Wainwright, but heard some audience members giving him scathing reviews in the foyer, so I may have dodged a bullet there.

Opening with the Graceland classic, Gumboots, it was clear that the capacity crowd were in for a musical treat. Simon’s eight piece multi-instrumentalist backing band was absolutely remarkable and recreated the sound of the Graceland tracks, in particular, flawlessly.

In his awkward introductory speech, Simon announced that he wanted to play an upbeat set, which was fine by me as I had just driven for three and a half hours from work and had the same journey ahead of me immediately after the concert. Hit after hit followed in rapid succession: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, The Obvious Child. Unfortunately, the overzealous security folk kept those wanting to dance in their assigned places, however, with a largely baby boomer audience, arthritis may have also been responsible for everyone else staying comfortably seated.

Simon performed six Graceland tracks during the show, including You Can Call Me Al, as well as songs from his earlier solo work right up to his new album, 2011’s So Beautiful or So What. He also performed some covers including a beautiful version of George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun.

Returning for his third encore, Simon announced that he felt like playing some Simon and Garfunkel tracks and sent us all home after two hours of pure musical bliss with joyful renditions of America, Homeward Bound and The Boxer. I might have shed a tear or two during the final track. I said “might have”, Doug.

Published in: on April 9, 2013 at 18:42  Leave a Comment  
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Peter Young and the Column of Words

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 8th March 2011.

A throwaway line during a movie review in the UK has inspired the production of a low budget film in Australia. During a review of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief on BBC Radio Five Live last year, respected film reviewer Mark Kermode made fun of the film, criticising it as a knock-off of the Harry Potter franchise. It was so derivative that, according to Kermode, it may as well have been called “Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins.”

Kermode, along with radio host Simon Mayo, command a loyal and sizeable UK audience via their two hour movie review and interview show every Friday, which is also available to the rest of the world via podcast. Naturally, this witty title took the imagination of listeners everywhere and following many texts and emails to the show, a few fan produced posters for the proposed film appeared online.

Late last year, Australian writer and director Jeremy Dylan announced that he would be putting his own money on the line to actually produce the film and in January, the world premiere of the low budget satire Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins was held at the Dendy cinema in Newtown.

Starring Andrew Griscti as the title character, the film follows the adventures of Benjamin, “a nerdy, skiffle-loving redhead from Cockfosters” who finds out that he is a wizard and is soon whisked off to an island in Australia to be trained in magic by mentor Pentangle and Bavarian filmmaker Werner Herzog. Sound familiar?

Whilst the film is a broad satire of the Harry Potter franchise and the Percy Jackson not-quite-successful-enough-to-be-a-franchise movie, it is also packed with in-jokes from the radio show. Sniddlegrass loves skiffle because Mark Kermode plays bass in the skiffle / rockabilly quartet The Dodge Brothers. The character of Werner Herzog is based on the real eccentric German filmmaker of the same name (Rescue Dawn, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu the Vampyre) who famously was shot by an unknown assailant with an air rifle during an interview with Kermode, brushing it off and continuing the interview with the comment, “it was not a significant bullet.”

Of course, the low budget nature of the film means that the cast is composed of unknown actors, with the exception of famous actor, writer and comedian Stephen Fry (Gosford Park, Alice in Wonderland, V for Vendetta) who somehow was convinced by the director to narrate the story.

Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins is currently available via digital download for the reasonable price of $10. It will also soon be out on DVD. Other screenings worldwide are being demanded by supporters and fans.

The film itself is worth a chuckle or two. Despite being restricted by its tiny budget, it is hard not to smile throughout the seventy minute running time. I would definitely recommend that you familiarise yourself with the banter of Kermode and Mayo’s radio show before you see the movie. There are plenty of hilarious clips of Kermode’s famous rants online.

Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 07:03  Leave a Comment  
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