It's no secret that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel didn't end their partnership on the friendliest terms. Despite a brief reunion every decade or so -- most notably in the fall of 1981 at The Concert in Central Park -- Simon & Garfunkel were notorious for not speaking to each other, so their reunion at the 2002 Grammy Awards, opening the show with "The Sound of Silence," was a big deal. It was a good performance, too, whetting the appetites of an audience eager for a full-fledged reunion tour, which the duo delivered in 2003 ...
It's no secret that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel didn't end their partnership on the friendliest terms. Despite a brief reunion every decade or so -- most notably in the fall of 1981 at The Concert in Central Park -- Simon & Garfunkel were notorious for not speaking to each other, so their reunion at the 2002 Grammy Awards, opening the show with "The Sound of Silence," was a big deal. It was a good performance, too, whetting the appetites of an audience eager for a full-fledged reunion tour, which the duo delivered in 2003 and into 2004. This tour is documented on the appropriately titled (and none too surprisingly titled) Old Friends: Live on Stage, a double-CD set that culls highlights from a series of concerts they performed at the Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey and Madison Square Garden between December 3 and 8, 2003. There's also a deluxe version of the concert containing a DVD that recreates the entire set list of the show, adding six songs to the concert, including "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" and two additional Everly Brothers songs. In either incarnation, the same holds true: it's a warm, enjoyable slice of nostalgia. Simon & Garfunkel make no attempt to hide their age -- during the show, they recall meeting each other in sixth grade in a production of Alice in Wonderland, offhandedly mentioning the 40 years that have passed since they started their professional musical career. This is a smart move, since the point of the entire tour and by extension this album is nostalgia, to gain comfort in reminiscing and revisiting the duo's generation-defining songs. This is made explicit on the intro to the DVD, which recaps the cultural shifts from the '50s to the 2000s, all peppered with photos of Simon & Garfunkel as boys, first-time fathers, and senior citizens. This may be unapologetically sentimental, even sappy, but anybody who had Simon & Garfunkel songs as the soundtrack to their life -- particularly Baby Boomers, but to a lesser extent their children, as well -- will find that it tugs on their heart strings all the same, and gets them ready to enjoy this stroll down memory lane. (Nevertheless, it sure is weird to hear the hometown crowd hoop and holler at the "come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue" line in "The Boxer.") As music, Old Friends isn't quite as successful, even if it's still a pleasurable experience. Simon & Garfunkel's voices have aged, lowering a bit in range, and Simon's pitch isn't as strong as it once was, but when they harmonize, the chemistry is still apparent; if anything, the changes in their voices only adds to the nostalgic appeal of the music, since it makes it clear just how much time has passed and how much things have changed. Musically, the biggest flaw is that, apart from the handful of solo acoustic numbers, the arrangements are slickly professional -- well done, to be sure, but just a shade too glossy. But that's a minor complaint, since this overall is a very enjoyable listen. Perhaps it's nostalgia, but it does its job exceptionally well. [Two final notes: The CD contains a new song, "Citizen of the Planet," which is pleasant, but not remarkable. The DVD, however, has an exceptional series of clips from the 1970 TV special Songs of America that contain footage of Simon & Garfunkel performing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in the studio, traveling across the U.S., playing in hotel rooms, and being interviewed. For any dedicated fan, it's worth the price of admission, but hopefully the entire special will be released on DVD someday.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi