GREAT BARRINGTON — Rarely can a live vocal performance be termed "courageous." Usually, the artist is either good or bad.
But in the case of folksinger/songwriter Art Garfunkel, given the background of his struggle with vocal paresis five years ago, Saturday's sold-out show at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, there were certainly legitimate questions to answer.
Happily, the former arranger and songwriter for the legendary folk duo of Simon and Garfunkel answered them with a very personal, very professional 15-song set that was interspersed with commentary and poetry.
There were certainly a few glitches; at the end of the first set, finishing off "99 Miles From L.A." there was a hint of a strain in his voice. And again, as the second set drew to a close, a truncated "Sounds of Silence" also revealed a bit of a stretch.
But those were more like scratches in fine leather. Garfunkel's voice was, for the most part, strong and very supple.
On Saturday, Garfunkel was ably abetted by guitarist Tab Laven, with whom he has played since 2003. Laven provided acoustic backup to Garfunkel's songs adding the occasional harmony.
Garfunkel opened his set with "April Come She Will," Paul Simon's song from "Sounds of Silence" (1966).
"The Boxer" was next, and a delighted audience sang the "Li, Le, Li" chorus unbidden.
A haunting "Light in New York/All I Know" medley followed and any fears that Garfunkel's voice had suffered any irreperable damage were muted. "All I Know" was a lovely version of Jimmy Webb's love ballad.
Between every song was either a poem or commentary. Garfunkel recited poems about his father, one of his sons, performing and other topics.
He also spoke about his vocal illness.
"Part of mending," he said, "is going out on stage and performing. Whether you feel ready or not."
Was all this to pace his vocal chords? Certainly, at least in part. But his commentary and poetry was interesting and engaging. The audience enjoyed it.
During the second set, Garfunkel named his five favorite songwriters: Steven Sondheim, Paul Simon, Webb, "and my vote for the next President of the United States, James Taylor."
That drew a pleased roar.
"I feel as though I'm in James Taylor country, aren't I?" Garfunkel asked. The audience loudly concurred.
He then revealed Number Five, Randy Newman. And then launched into Newman's "Real Emotional Girl." "The Sounds of Silence" and "Bright Eyes" followed.
The finale was a shortened "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
"We're still working on this one," said Garfunkel. "So you're only going to get two verses. The show is over, now we're at a workshop."
But the audience loved it, and the night ended with a standing ovation for a legend and a true pro.