The purity of Art Garfunkel’s voice — a tenor that could shoot straight up to heaven — defined an era when it blended with the sound and songwriting genius of his partner, Paul Simon. Both mood and meditation, the songs of Simon & Garfunkel communicated the longing of a generation moving away from tradition as it ventured into an unknown that somehow made time itself more visible.
The crystalline quality of Garfunkel’s singing gave the music its transcendence. A half-century or more since “Homeward Bound,” “The Sound of Silence” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” were recorded, the divine voice reveals that it is indeed mortal and subject to nature’s laws.
At the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa on Saturday, Garfunkel sang not with the same beauty but with a satisfying richness and poignancy of character. The bill was titled “Art Garfunkel: In Close-Up” (the same as the show he will perform at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills on Sunday), and it was an intimate affair, just Garfunkel, accompanied by two musicians (Tab Laven on guitar and Paul Beard on keyboard), with entr’acte singing (and occasional harmonies) from Garfunkel’s son Arthur Jr.
Garfunkel, who in his prime looked like a graduate student and now has the abstracted air of a professor emeritus, included as patter some prose-poetry swaths from his memoir, “What Is It All but Luminous: Notes From an Underground Man.” These are memories and philosophical musings he jotted down while walking across countries. A man who strides across Europe (over the course of many trips) with a notebook may not live up to the image of the Dostoevsky-borrowed subtitle, but he is determined, perhaps a bit obsessive and clearly enamored with the sound of his own pensive silence.
A complicated artist, in other words, who’s protective of his privacy yet unable to resist sharing his gifts with the public. Garfunkel said he’s “addicted” to singing. There was a vague sense of apology in his use of the word, as though he needed to account for why he was still up there trying to hit notes that once came so effortlessly. He needn’t have explained.
During the intermission, my companion made the sage observation that the audience had gathered not to be impressed by virtuosity but to remember what it gave us. Garfunkel is aware of the impulse toward nostalgia, but he refused to overindulge it. He talked with his usual honest evasiveness about his rocky partnership with Simon, and he parceled out the old songs everyone wanted to hear, shall we say, carefully.
“Scarborough Fair” was imbued with a haunting sense of mortality — the “thyme” in the lyric that includes parsley, sage and rosemary had a ghostly presence, as though the homonym “time” no longer needed to be voiced to be understood. “The Sound of Silence” was suffused with an upbeat energy that seemed consciously not to want to go gently into that good night.
In “Bright Eyes,” a solo success internationally for Garfunkel that he mourned never got its due in the U.S., he concentrated on the question, “How can the light that burned so brightly / Suddenly burn so pale?” From a voice that age has made more fragile, the lyric resonated powerfully to an audience that has grown older with Garfunkel.
“There’s a lot of mortality in this show,” he joked at one point. Yet the dominant note was one of joyful gratitude. Garfunkel is a bard in the strolling troubadour manner. The music business today confounds him. (He riffed on his reaction to a publicist trying to convince him to tweet.) But from his earliest days making grown men cry with his singing in synagogues in Queens, N.Y., he knew he was born to perform. Pretty melodies are irresistible to him, and he revels in following his independent bliss.
Garfunkel ended the evening with “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” but he was just going to bed. He had a gig in Beverly Hills on Sunday.