Graceland at 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
A Celebration of Paul Simon’s Graceland live at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
In 1984 Paul Simon became so fascinated by a bootleg cassette of South African township music that he travelled to Johannesburg and spent two weeks recording with South African musicians. This recording session formed the basis of his seventh and most commercially successful solo album, Graceland.
This concert sets out to recreate this album as a live performance, although to be fair, it only occupies the second half of the evening.
Taking on the role of Simon for the evening was Josh Turner Guitar, a very youthful and quietly engaging presence on stage. He was backed by an excellent band-who were able to recreate the original sound of the album uncannily well-and the UK’s South African Cultural Gospel Choir. Opening the concert with the lively Kodachrome and with the band onstage, Turner proceeded with a variety of Paul Simon favourites, some with his own personal style added. This was interspersed with the Gospel Choir performing traditional South African Songs.
As we didn’t see the band again until the end of the first half, this led to some imbalanced staging, with Turner always centre stage and the choir performing only on one side of the stage. The repeated entrances and exits also made it a little disjointed in presentation. However, showcasing both Simon’s work and the South African sound that intrigued Paul Simon and led to Graceland had value.
The first half featured favourites such as Still Crazy, Homeward Bound, 50 Ways to Leave your Lover, Love me like a Rock and the beautifully performed American Song. Any questions about the competence of the guitar playing were blown out of the water with the confident rendition of the guitar solo Angie.
Meanwhile the Gospel Choir, led by their charismatic drummer/soloist, brought us some powerful singing of several traditional songs, all enhanced with engaging solo dances, where the girls used the grass skirts of their traditional costume to good effect. I particularly enjoyed the tenor solo in Shosholoza and the moving Thula Sana lullaby.
With the band and singers in place for the whole of the second half, the audience were treated to a brilliant replication of the Graceland album- full marks to the band and sound engineers. The continuity kept the excitement building, and by the time we reached You Can Call Me Al, the whole audience was up and dancing. The emotive Homeless was so moving performed live, and another favourite of mine was Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes. Turner grew in confidence and stature as the evening progressed and had, I’m sure, gained a whole raft of new fans by the finale of Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.
As this was only their second performance, they are in for a very successful tour. Do catch it if you can for a feel-good evening.
Review by Sheila Arden.
The tour continues to Edinburgh, Cardiff, Manchester, Brighton and many more locations.