There was a bounce in Paul Simon's leg that would eventually get the best of him. It started during the very first song of Sunday's show at Agganis Arena and kept going all the way through the start of the first of three encores. It was then, during "You Can Call Me Al," that the bounce finally broke free and, in his low-key and unassuming way, Simon started to dance.
Until then, that bounce was one of the few indications that Simon was grooving on the tunes. Arriving onstage in a ball cap and an untucked shirt, he acted like he wasn't there to put on an arena-size show, just to sing some songs he wrote.
But while Simon may have seemed casual , he never seemed lazy. Still, despite the show's two-hour length, he gave surprisingly short shrift to his new CD "Surprise." There were more songs from 1986's "Graceland" (including opening one-two punch "Gumboots" and "The Boy in the Bubble") than from the last 10 years.
His band shifted styles effortlessly, from the zydeco shuffle of "That Was Your Mother" to the African rhythms of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" to a spry "Mrs. Robinson," barely twisted (with rattlesnake-like percussion and Simon's own tremolo guitar) into a Bo Diddley stomper. The new "How Can You Live in the Northeast?" showcased a fiery solo by guitarist Mark Stewart and took full advantage of drummers Steve Gadd and Robin DiMaggio , who magnified the song's impact by doubling up on the explosive ending.
The most pervasive tone, however, was gentleness. It could be upbeat, as in the sweet "Father and Daughter." It could be mournful and ironic, as in "Still Crazy After All These Years," which was rendered with an after-hours feel that emphasized its blues and torch undertones. It could be knowing: The passage of time has added weight to both the wisdom of "Slip Slidin' Away" and Simon's quiet authority to deliver it.
But above all, it could simply be soothing, which was, after all, the point of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and, less directly, "The Boxer," which featured bluegrass opener Jerry Douglas on dobro. As Simon sang "I am just a poor boy, though my story's seldom told" for the nth time without irony, the showmanship took care of itself.