Amaturo Theater, Broward Center for the Performing Arts
February 21, 2014
Better than: Simon and Garfunkel? Predictably no. Art Garfunkel in his prime? Again, no. Art Garfunkel, three years prior when he was robbed of his voice? Decidedly yes.
Three years ago, a mysterious malady robbed Art Garfunkel of the singing voice that had stirred a generation. For a man whose career had been built on the ability to deliver the high harmonies that sweetened partner Paul Simon's songs, it likely felt like losing a limb. The fact that the ailment appeared without warning made a crippling disability all the more terrifying. At that point, Art Garfunkel faced the very real possibility that he might never perform again.
Fortunately, the voice has returned -- not all the way perhaps, but at least enough to be able to road test it in public. Indeed, based on his performance this past Friday night at the Broward Center's intimate Amaturo Theater -- which garnered Garfunkel's effusive praise for its spectacular sound quality -- he still has some distance to go before he'll be able to replicate the rich tones and pristine power his voice was once capable of achieving. At times, his singing sounded thin and lacking its once vibrant power, and while he was still able to evoke the tenderness of classics like "Kathy's Song," "The Sound of Silence," "The Boxer," "Scarborough Fair," and the other select chestnuts from the Simon and Garfunkel catalogue, his once rich tenor was clearly lacking.
To his credit, however, Garfunkel never made it seem as if he was struggling to sustain his delivery. Looking paternal dressed in dark slacks and an appropriately tropical style shirt, and with his trademark curly locks now retreating before an expanding bald dome, he made it clear from the outset that his recovery was still very much a work in progress, one that he was brave enough to undergo in front of an audience. While it could be argued that he should have postponed that initiative until he was fully capable, his commitment and resolve were admirable, at least as far as this audience was concerned. The crowd seemed more than willing to overlook any tonal shortcomings, and the applause he garnered for the aforementioned favorites, as well as for his solo successes such as "All I Know," "Bright Eyes," and "A Heart in New York," and a well-suited standard like "Someone To Watch Over Me," clearly demonstrated that the crowd had his back.
It's no wonder really. Spurred on by his tale of recovery, Garfunkel is clearly eager to share more of his backstory these days, filling the space between songs with his prose and poetry, all of which take flight from anecdotes and accounts of his life and 44-yearlong career. Talking about his inspiration to first start singing at age five after hearing his parents' recordings of the great opera singer Enrico Caruso, he gave heartfelt tribute to his father who passed his own love of music along to his son. He spoke abut his own children, his obvious affection and admiration for his partner Paul Simon ("Which of us will speak at which of our funerals?"), his disdain for downloads and hip-hop, his New York City roots, his early encounter with fame, his famous friends like Jack Nicholson and Robert DeNiro, and his thoughts on the way most people receive their full measure of praise only after they pass away.
"We give one-sixth worth of credit to those alive and save the other five-sixth until after they die," he observed of the latter point. Call it a truism or merely a passing observation; one wonders how that will eventually apply to Garfunkel and his former partner in particular. Doubtless, most of the people in attendance were clearly ready to give full measure now.
Likewise, a question and answer session also proved equally fruitful when it came to extracting further reflection. And there were some in the audience that helped pry the information out of him through their own personal recollections. A former neighbor recounted how Garfunkel's parents used to babysit for her, and a man who was present at a Simon and Garfunkel's landmark concert in New York's Central Park prompted the singer to admit that that particular show was the most memorable of his career. "I remember turning to Paul and telling him we must have done something right during the '60s," Garfunkel recalled. "I didn't know we did it this right!"
Clearly too, Garfunkel's still a big booster of the pair's legacy. Estimating the magnitude of an imagined Simon and Garfunkel tour, he boldly proclaimed, "It would be bigger than the Stones, bigger than U2..." That might be hyperbole, but the crowd was convinced.
Kudos are also due guitarist Tab Laven, the singer's sole accompaniment on this limited tour. Laven's guitar skills are easily the equal of Simon's -- perhaps even better -- and with Garfunkel still in the process of recovery, he added the necessary color the songs required. An attempt at "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" was bold at best without the song's signature piano intro, but labeling it a work in progress allowed the pair to give it a limited try. They quit before getting to the rousing "sail on silver bird" crescendo, which was disappointing, but at least they could say they made a go at offering an indispensable favorite.
At his venerable age, acting as the pied piper for his generation and the man who helped score its soundtrack, one would and should expect nothing less.
The Crowd: Older. Much older, as one might expect. Still, there were a few teens in the audience. And a few people, both young and old, sporting hairstyles that recalled the Art Garfunkel curly top of old. Coincidence? Who knows?
Personal Bias: A wait at the stage door after the show for Art to show was rewarded with a personal two minute audience in which he apologized for having kept us waiting for more than half an hour. Indeed, most of those who had lingered earlier in hopes of a backstage encounter left earlier after being told Artie was tired and was retreating to his hotel. However, all joy quickly dissipated when Art insisted he didn't remember the New Times interview with yours truly that had transpired a mere three weeks before, thereby quashing my belief that we had bonded during our chat. He didn't have a clue. I've never seen a blanker expression on anyone being queried about a previous meeting. Wow. Nothing. Disappointing. But I was able to use it to my advantage as I guilted him into signing my CD.
By the way: Art is 72. At that age, memory lapses can be forgiven. Happily, he remembered all the lyrics.