POP MUSIC REVIEW : 750,000 Percussionists Spark Simon's Rhythms

NEWSDAY

At various times Thursday, Paul Simon was backed by anywhere from five to 15 drummers playing everything from mule bones to pottery.

But the best moments came when he was joined by his 750,000-strong percussion section, happily smacking palm on palm, skin on skin in a unison thunderclap.

Now there's a band.

From the opening roar that greeted Simon, the crowd was as much a part of the Central Park show as the star was, waving arms in unison to the easy beat of "Born at the Right Time," silently receiving Simon's quieter songs as the singer's voice floated out across the Great Lawn or jumping to "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard."

The spirit was as strong as Simon's voice; even the boos that greeted Mayor David Dinkins as he introduced Simon sounded somewhat half-hearted.

The show was identical to those from the spring's first swing of the "Born at the Right Time" tour: a well-rehearsed show with a well-rehearsed band that ultimately relied on the singer himself for the more emotional moments.

The diminutive performer gave himself over to large gestures in an effort to be seen. But he's used to large gestures--the absorption and subsequent restatement of the music of Africa and Brazil on "Graceland" and "The Rhythm of the Saints" respectively--arguably two of the most influential albums of the last decade, and ones featured in the concert.

Regardless of the arguments that swirled around Simon's commandeering of various world musics, he carries his own context with him. But he's also most effective when he's just being Simon.

Although his voice began to falter later in the evening, hearing him sing "America" in Central Park under a clear sky on an August night in New York . . . well, you shoulda been there.

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