“We’ve played for five people,” confessed Harper Simon at the Cedar Cultural Center on Tuesday night.
“Five nice people,” noted one of his band members.
“Five nice people,” agreed Simon.
“I’m not a nice person,” whispered someone behind me to the left. “I’m terrible,” said someone back to my right.
In fact, the entire audience of about 50 was quietly generous to Simon and his band, sitting attentively and clapping politely. At the set’s conclusion, about half even stood and cheered. It was a good set for the concluding night of Simon’s first national tour, supporting his eponymous debut album.
Simon was notably comfortable onstage, and no wonder: the 37-year-old has been in the spotlight his entire life. He’s the son of Paul Simon and Peggy Harper (Paul’s first wife), and he looks and sounds pretty much precisely what you’d expect Paul Simon’s son to look and sound like. (It’s Harper who’s the “traveling companion” referred to in Paul’s song “Graceland,” though the road trip narrated in that song is apparently a fiction.)
Simon’s album was recorded with the support of an all-star cast including his father, Petra Haden, Inara George, Attraction (as in Elvis-Costello-and-the) Steve Nieve, and (natch) Sean Lennon. Still, the songs aired Tuesday night don’t suggest that Simon is likely to attract a larger audience any time soon. Most were competent but loping opuses that didn’t dither, but nor did they really go anywhere. It didn’t help that Simon was poorly served by a muddy sound mix in which he was virtually buried.
The strongest among Simon’s original songs are the folkier numbers that, truth be told, sound most like something his dad might come up with. The sweet “Wishes and Stars” was my favorite, though the set’s real highlights were a cover of the Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac” and a pulsing, mesmerizing cover of Television’s “See No Evil.” If Simon and his strong band (including Minnesotan drummer Russell Simins) kicked it into second gear more often, that would be something to write home about.
Fortunately, you don’t have to write home about openers Peter Wolf Crier—they’re right here in the Twin Cities, where you can bring Mom and Dad to see them. And you should, as well as all your other friends.
Earlier this fall the duo—Peter Pisano of the recently disassembled Wars of 1812, with drummer Brian Moen—redefined the album-release show in collaboration with director Jeremey Catterton. They put so much effort into the transcendent theater-music hybrid This Is Not For You that they seemingly forgot to actually release the album; Inter-Be is now available for purchase and streaming at Peter Wolf Crier’s Web site.
At the Cedar, Pisano’s evocative songs scaled up very well from the house in which This Is Not For You took place, and I have a feeling we’ll be hearing them at even larger venues in the months to come.