Spirit Voices, Wristbands, and Ayahuasca: Storytime with Paul Simon at the Santa Barbara Bowl

June 17, 2016 - by: Kerry Allen

With a mix of new ballads and old favorites, Paul Simon didn’t disappoint at his recent sold-out show at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

The two-hour, 24-song, two-encore performance, left you with the sense that Simon, 74, was prepared to outlast the crowd: He rallied his flock to dance, mesmerized them with a few fantastical tales, and generally left them in a state of euphoria.

Joined by members of his nine-man band, Simon offered favorites such as “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Slip Slidin’ Away,” and “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes,” played in two versions: acoustic and pop-country.

As a prelude to “Spirit Voices,” Simon recounted his first trek into the Amazon, including a shaman’s invitation to try ayahuasca — he did despite the promise of side effects including a dreamlike encounter with a python. Halfway through the show, and as an introduction to “El Condor Pasa,” Vincent Nguini, a guitarist in Simon’s band for 25 years, recounted how Simon had travelled into the depths of the jungle as a form of initiation — fighting bears and what not along the way.

Before the night was over, Simon pulled from his richly-produced new studio album Stranger to Stranger, including “The Werewolf,” a whimsical tale with a poignant message of greed, and “Wristband,” already a crowd favorite despite its woeful message of the hazards of society’s class structure:

The riots started slowly with the homeless and the lowly

Then they spread into the heartland towns that never get a wristband

Kids that can't afford the cool brand whose anger is a short-hand

For you'll never get a wristband and if you don't have a wristband then you can't get through the door

Simon ended the evening with two encores and then finally, belted out a cherished hit, solidifying Simon’s status as musical hero. As his tribe wandered into the night, “The Boxer,” a Simon and Garfunkel original from their 1970 Bridge over Troubled Water album, was still resonating from the stage.

Check out the show photos by Santa Barbara Bowl Photographer, Larry Mills, on our photo library. 

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