A memorable evening as the pair light up the stage with classic songs and thumping good tunes...
Put your hands up if you were in the audience last night, or indeed on any of the nights of this ambitious On Stage Together tour, and came only to see one man, and that man was Paul Simon. I’m sure you won’t need much nudging. After all, after almost six decades in the business, Simon’s star may have dipped – and endured the political controversy of the Graceland years – but has never faded. Sting’s meanwhile, certainly has. It seems that breaking a UN cultural boycott is less of a crime than being the butt of tantric sex jokes.
But Simon doesn’t have to be cool to be loved. He’s got the songs, and while the Police back catalogue is strong on zippy, rousing, white reggae-inflected pop tunes, Simon’s best songs are classics. As Sting aptly put it last night, before breaking into a husky-voiced rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America”, these are songs that have formed the musical backdrop to his life, and probably yours if you're reading this. They’re songs you want to listen to when you’re falling in love, falling out of love, when you’re lonely or feeling homesick. And Sting’s pared-down “America”, which somehow segued into a punchy “Message in a Bottle” and, remarkably, managed to feel just right in doing so, was good.
Simon didn’t exactly return the compliment, nor, as elder statesman – at 73, he’s got ten years on Sting – does he need to. But still, there was clearly a lot of affection and camaraderie between the two on stage. Accompanied by a multipiece band, and the most impressive tuba and fiddle-playing you’ll see for a while, they shone, with neither bidding to outdo the other. The atmosphere was relaxed, chilled, just two buddies on the road, and completely focused on the music – and if there’s one criticism it’s that there was too much musical noodling from sections of the backing band, though it has to be said the musicianship was superb.
Still, it probably gave the two a chance to catch their breath. Thirty-three songs performed over three hours – more or less evenly spliced to cover good ground over each of their careers – is no easy feat; and though the solo sets did form the core of the evening, there were also belting duets opening, closing and punctuating the middle. “Mrs Robinson” got a radical makeover, so much so that it took a few beats to recognise what was coming, while “The Boxer” was given a gentle Nashville lilt.
What makes this double-bill a winning one is the energy that Sting brings to both Simon’s songs and to his own. “So Lonely”, “Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle, all performed solo, certainly got the near-capacity crowd at the cavernous O2 on its feet, but he also gave extra spice to Simon’s more reflective songs. And Simon himself does well when he bounces off the energies of another performer, since he’s certainly not one for big onstage gestures – though, having said that, you probably don’t need much help on that front when you’ve got the stomping African beats of “Boy in the Bubble” and “Graceland” to jack things. And Simon just lit up with “Graceland”.
Of Simon’s solo set two songs, perhaps surprisingly since neither ballad can be said to be a post-Simon and Garfunkel classic (the latter quietly sinking when it came out as the title track on the 1983 eponymous album) gave us two of the evening’s highlights: “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “Hearts and Bones” were more or less straight renditions, and they were sung beautifully, affectingly.
It has to be said, both Sting, now sporting a grizzly old man’s beard (and as the gig drew to a close draped in a fashionista man gown) and Simon, who looked slimmer and fitter than he has in some time, looked incredibly well. And they both sounded good – though perhaps Sting’s rasping roar of a crescendo in “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” right at the close proved a bridge too far for his old vocal chords. No matter. This was a memorable evening.
(c) The Arts Desk by Fisun Güner
Paul Simon & Sting tour review: greatest hits had crowd on feet at the O2...
They may be an odd couple, but Paul Simon and Sting piled hit upon hit at this convivial gig.
Both Sting and Paul Simon are still capable of filling the O2 alone, so this hybrid tour was an opportunity to freshen up another greatest hits set by piling a second load of hits on top.
Having first performed together at a benefit concert in 2013, the Englishman and the New Yorker aren’t the most obvious duo. They couldn’t look more different, with bearded Sting channelling his inner Viking warrior next to his nondescript partner, and their gruff/sweet voices weren’t a natural fit when sharing a song. But both have spent long careers journeying far from their early sounds, which made for plenty of interest in a three-hour show.
With both bands on stage most of the time there was plenty to watch as the solos stacked up, whether from fiery fiddler Peter Tickell or Marcus Rojas’s versatile tuba. The atmosphere was convivial, with stage time evenly shared and duets bookending two solo segments each.
Rockier Police moments such as So Lonely and Roxanne raised a polite crowd to its feet, while gentler Simon had to wait until You Can Call Me Al to earn his wildest reaction. Nevertheless, this odd couple worked well together in a new format. May it lead to other fantasy pairings in the future.
(c) Evening Standard by David Smyth