The Scene: Last Tuesday saw a bill at The Pepsi Center that made Baby Boomers for miles around weak in the knees with excitement as legendary musicians Paul Simon and Sting joined forces for the first time in their illustrious careers. While the vast arena was largely empty just a few minutes before eight as I made my way to my seat, by the time the show started at a quarter past the hour, there were very few vacant seats. Instead they were filled with grey haired couples who held hands and closed their eyes as they sang along with Simon’s early hits and groups of women in their mid-forties who coo’d at Sting’s ripped physique and Reggae inflected melodies. While it was a tame and mellow evening for most, that didn’t stop many in the crowd from standing for more than half the show.
Sting & Paul Simon: At 8:15 sharp the lights went down and the stage filled with a massive group of at least 14 musicians backing Sting and Simon as they ran through Sting’s “Brand New Day” to kick off the show together. As the two artists flashed smiles at each other during the opener, it quickly became clear to those who hadn’t read up on the tour in advance that these two artists were more than just “on-tour” together, they were actually collaborating. Then, when they traded verses on Simon’s Graceland classic “Boy In The Bubble,” it struck me that their voices fit together very well and when they broke out “Fields of Gold,” Simon’s phrasing of Sting’s lyrics actually improved and reinvented the song. Though the opening collaborative stanza only lasted three songs, the show was structured to feature the pair on stage several more times throughout the night.
Between the highly anticipated duets between the featured artists, each was given the opportunity to showcase his own band, and his own hits, as the other relaxed backstage for a few minutes. The first solo set went to Sting and he wasted no time by breaking out a hit everyone had come to hear: “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” Though not much of a Sting or Police fan, I was immediately impressed by his presence on stage and how well his voice has fared over the years. While it was clear that Simon has changed some keys and lowered some notes over the years, Sting’s voice soared beautifully on tracks like “Englishman in New York,” “Message In A Bottle,” “Roxanne,” and even a cover of the seminal Simon and Garfunkel tune “America” that he performed without Simon’s help. The only time Sting seemed to falter a bit was when the pair tackled “The Boxer” and he struggled a bit with the phrasing and melody early on, but in the end it was largely a forgivable mistake given the rest of his performance throughout the night.
Simon’s two brief solo sets were chock full of the hits that have kept him a household name for 50 years. From the dazzling percussion on “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” and “The Obvious Child” to the lyrical masterpieces that are “Hearts and Bones” and “Graceland” the 72 year old songwriter enchanted his fans with moment after moment of musical genius. A highlight of his portion of the show was a masterful medley of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” and Chet Atkins’ “Wheels” that featured some outstanding guitar playing and singing by Simon’s drummer.
While Simon had the honor of closing out the set with two Graceland gems in “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al,” the pair returned for an encore that featured duets of “Every Breath You Take,” “Late in the Evening,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Then, in a surprise to many, they returned for a second encore of The Everly Brother’s “When Will I Be Loved” in tribute to the late Phil Everly who so obviously influenced Simon in his early days as a singer-songwriter.
While on paper this pairing of Paul Simon and Sting may have seemed a bit mismatched to many (including myself) in the end it came off very well and a packed Pepsi Center walked out into a mild winter evening feeling very satisfied.
Set List: Brand New Day*, The Boy in the Bubble*, Fields of Gold*, Every Little Thing She Does is Magic^, Englishman in New York^, I Hung My Head^, Driven to Tears^-> Love is the Seventh Wave*, Mother and Child Reunion*, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard#, Dazzling Blue#, 50 Ways to Leave Your Love#, Graceland#, Pretty Thing#, Fragile*, America^, Message in a Bottle^, The Hounds of Winter^, They Dance Alone^, Roxanne^, Desert Rose^, The Boxer*, That Was Your Mother#, Hearts and Bones#-> Mystery Train#, The Obvious Child#, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes#, You Can Call Me Al#
Encore: Every Breath You Take*, Late in the Evening*, Bridge Over Troubled Water*
Encore 2: When Will I Be Loved
* – Sting and Simon together
^ – Sting solo
# – Simon solo
Stage Presence: A-
Set/Light Show: B