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Review: GRACELAND LIVE, Shepherd's Bush Empire

BWW Review: GRACELAND LIVE, Shepherd's Bush Empire

Review: GRACELAND LIVE, Shepherd's Bush Empire Fans of Paul Simon, and in particular his groundbreaking album Graceland, are in for a touring treat this autumn.

New York-based musician Josh Turner, backed by a band of 5 musicians and the South African Cultural Choir, are taking a show on the road that includes in its second half a recreation of the entire album, in all its glory.

The first half of the show sees Turner, by turns solo or accompanied by his bandmates (on drums, guitar, bass, keys, sax and additional percussion), performing a handful of his favourite 'other' Paul Simon songs.

Turner's stage presence is understated and unshowy, but belies his exceptionally dexterous skill on the guitar and pitch-perfect vocals. The timbre of his voice is certainly reminiscent of Simon's, and the songs sit perfectly in his range. However, he steers clear of a full-on Stars in Their Eyes style impression and instead gives simple, uncomplicated and highly accomplished renditions of the songs.

Some songs are preceded by mini-anecdotes or short introductions, but the focus is very much on the music.

Much time is also given during the first half of the show to songs performed by the South African Cultural Choir, a collective of exceptional African performers based in the UK. The eight members of the choir showcase a number of African songs, accompanied only by drums.

The rhythms and sounds they create are deeply evocative of the heritage they represent, and coupled with each singer also taking their turn in the spotlight to perform some Zulu dancing, give a vigorous energy to the first half of the show.

Towards the end of the first half comes the first collaboration between Turner, the band and the Choir, to whet our appetites for part two...

After the interval, the unmistakable first notes of The Boy In The Bubble herald the start of the run through Graceland. The album's tracks are played in full, and in order. There are minimal interruptions to the music, although Turner does explain a little about the history of the album.

Graceland was released in 1986 after Simon visited apartheid South Africa and spent time in jam sessions with local musicians. This laid down the music for the album, with Simon writing lyrics and re-recording and further developing the tracks after his return to the US.

Of course the songs don't sound exactly the same as the album, but even purists would find it hard to deny that not just the music, but also the spirit and essence of every song, are fully evoked in the performance.

The audience became noticeably more animated during You Can Call Me Al, probably the most commercially successful of the album's songs, with many audience members getting out of their seats to dance. A party-like atmosphere was maintained from then until the end of the show.

The performance was capped off by an encore of Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, sending the audience out into a damp October evening with a joyful spring in their step and Simon's masterpieces, beautifully rendered by those on stage, ringing in their ears.

Graceland Live is on tour around the UK during October and November, including: Southend, Cliff's Pavilion; High Wycombe, Wycombe Swan; Swansea, Grand Theatre; Liverpool, Philharmonic Hall; Glasgow, Royal Concert Hall; Malvern, Festival Theatre; Manchester, Opera House; Inverness, Eden Court Theatre; Aberdeen, Music Hall; Perth, Concert Hall; Newcastle, City Hall; Carlisle, Sands Centre; Edinburgh, Playhouse.

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