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News / Life / Clark County Life

Off Beat: Final report from front lines of Paul debate

Mini concert reviews, anecdotes, and a look at our poll

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 30, 2016, 6:00am

If turnout matters, there was no real contest between Pauls. But if quality and excitement matter, I gleefully declare a tie.

You may have caught my April 10 story previewing, and contrasting, Portland concerts by Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. It’s hard for me not to gush about these guys, as different as they are, and while even nosebleed seats cost various limbs and organs, I couldn’t miss either show. Here’s my report.

On April 15, McCartney packed the big basketball stadium — you know, the one that used to be a Rose Garden but now just rhymes with Yoda, in Portland. On May 25, Simon caused a similar sardine scenario at the classy but cozy Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, also in Portland.

The Moda Center can cram in something like 20,000 people. Capacity at the Schnitz is 2,776. So you’re looking at an order of magnitude of difference.

Related Coverage: Our April 10 preview story — Comparing, contrasting and celebrating two musical Pauls

Ditto the whole concert experience. McCartney meticulously re-creates the hits you’ve known for years, and tosses in tales of meeting royalty and working with his famous fallen comrades. He’s got lasers and big explosions and historical film clips playing on the Jumbotron. And if he can’t quite scream the crazy high notes on “Maybe I’m Amazed” anymore, he’s still quite amazing — no maybe about it. The man is a joyous force of nature. The friend I was with wondered, “What’s his secret of eternal youth?”

Simon, by contrast, doesn’t lean much on his early, folky fame with Art Garfunkel. “The Boxer” and “Sounds of Silence” are beautiful encores, but Simon’s huge, percussion-heavy, international band simply dazzles on the world-music material of “Graceland” and “The Rhythm of the Saints” — and several new songs from “Stranger to Stranger,” his not-yet-released new album.

It’s quite a feat to captivate a crowd with stuff they’ve never heard before, but Simon did. When’s the last time you were at a rock concert where the sound was so fine, you couldn’t miss a word?

Engagement party

Pleasing the crowd by playing dozens of his greatest tunes still isn’t enough for McCartney. He invited onto the stage a couple whose sign said “Marry us, Sir Paul,” and then discovered that they weren’t even engaged — so he presided over an impromptu engagement ceremony before a cheering arena. He’s like the Rockin’ Senior Emissary of Love.

Simon chats and jokes less. But he dances, waves his arms and gestures along with his lyrics. Toward the end of the show, he upped the house lights and pointed out an unbelievably bouncy, skippy, tween-looking girl in a purple dress who seemed like the single most excited person in the whole room.

“I love the way she dances,” he smiled, and thousands agreed. The concert became a community.

All Paul-itics is local

In a serious upset that has the pundits sputtering, the Internet “Paul poll” that we ran in April produced the result never expected.

We asked, “Who do ya love? Pick your preferred Paul.” My assumption was that the cute Beatle would easily outdistance the lonely Boxer. I was wrong.

Serious Simon (“He’s my Bridge Over Troubled Water”) got 32 votes, or 55 percent; and merry McCartney (“He never runs out of Silly Love Songs”) got 26 votes, or 45 percent. Either there was a groundswell of popular support for the assumed underdog or some pledged superdelegate was determined to put Simon over the top, and one-person-one-vote be damned.

No shame in short

One sensitive Simon lover scolded me for calling her man “the little dude from New York City” in that April story. She was insulted on his behalf. I had hoped it was overwhelmingly clear that I love both Pauls deeply — and soberly. I pulled no punches about McCartney’s fairly erratic career (many precious gems, many duds too) and concluded that Simon has been more consistently excellent across the decades.

So let’s fact-check this alleged dig. Paul Simon grew up in Flushing, Queens. (NYC, check.) He often covers his thinning canopy with a stylish fedora, and at the Schnitz he was sporting one snazzy suit jacket. (Dude, check.) And, according to several online sources, he stands a whopping 5-foot-3. When he and his fabulous band locked arms for their bows, you couldn’t help noticing which guy was the petite one. (Little, check.)

I stand by my statement. Paul Simon is, in fact, a little dude from New York City. Love him like a rock.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.