Sting and Peter Gabriel both enjoyed massive commercial success during the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s. The two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-ers explored the similarities and differences in their approaches last night at the Verizon Center on the second stop of their co-headlining Rock Paper Scissors Tour.
Not since the Amnesty International concerts of the late ‘80s have Sting and Gabriel toured together. The idea for Rock Paper Scissors came from Sting, who shared the stage with Paul Simon in 2014 on a tour that was very successful, artistically and commercially. As with that show, the presentation wasn't linear, with one artist after the other. Rather, Gabriel and Sting shared musicians, dueted, and swapped solo sets to showcase the depth of their respective catalogs.
The more than two-and-a-half hour performance slithered in with the angular “The Rhythm of the Heat” off of Gabriel’s 1982 self-titled released. The combined band, over a dozen musicians strong, took the song from its eerie beginnings to its percussive climax, and the concert just took off from there. Sting followed the opener and maintained the energy with his 1993 hit, “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You”, before the two artists finally shared vocal duties on “No Self Control”, another example of Gabriel’s prog-rock roots.
The opening Gabriel numbers were immediate signs that neither artist lacked the confidence to dig into their deep cuts and challenge the audience. Sting played “Walking In Your Footsteps”, written for The Police, as well as “The Hounds of Winter”, a song about aging. Gabriel chose “Darkness” as part of his set, a 7-minute piece of sonic schizophrenia that alternates between tender piano ballad and distorted noise-rock.
Gabriel and Sting have been politically active throughout their careers, sometimes drawing derision from the pop culture intelligentsia as a result. There was a definite political undercurrent to last night's music. Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers," in which Sting shared lead vocals, seems particularly timely given today's Brexit news. Sting's "Invisible Sun" and "Driven to Tears" are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago, unfortunately. Sting also dedicated "Fragile" to victims of the Orlando shooting and Gabriel similarly dedicated "Love Can Heal" to fallen British MP, Jo Cox.
The show's design incorporated many of the lights, bells, and whistles one expects from a large rock show, but it was all tastefully executed, down to the smallest detail. For example, each front man's band was associated with a different color: Sting's band uniforms had blue accents while Gabriel's had red, and the lighting's color scheme would change accordingly depending upon who was playing.
The two leads showed their differing styles as craftsmen and showmen. Incorporating global instruments and rhythms into their music is a trait they share, but Gabriel tends to look to the electronic and experimental for his influences while Sting in known for his use of jazz tonalities and collaborators. Gabriel was more comfortable as a frontman, working the crowd and moving about the stage. Sting seemed much happier crooning with his well-traveled bass in hand, as opposed to dancing around.
The highlights were those moments when the two stars would sing each other's material. Gabriel twisted "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" into a dirty downtempo funk groove. Sting rocked "Shock The Monkey" and sang a bit of the 1973 Genesis song, "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight" before segueing into "Message In A Bottle."
An opportunity for some of the wonderful musicians to get a moment in the spotlight was missed. The percussion section of Vinnie Colaiuta, Ged Lynch, and Rhani Krija would have made for a fantastic drum break, and perhaps Tony Levin, Gabriel's long time bassist, has earned a solo spot. Still, keyboardists David Sancious and Angie Pollock got to shine on a gorgeous arrangement of "In Your Eyes", while vocalist Jo Lawry and violinist Peter Tickell each got a moment in the sun.
This is just a minor complaint. The second half of the show was a string of hits that stand the test of time. Split vocal duties on Gabriel's "Big Time" and Sting's "Englishman in New York" got the nearly sold-out audience on its feet and it stayed there. By the time the encore concluded with "Sledgehammer" and its infectious groove, any nitpicks went by the wayside.
(c) DCist by Sriram Gopal
Check out more reviews from the Washington show of the tour at http://www.sting.com/tour/washington where you can also leave your thoughts about the show, post your photos etc. Also remember to check and use the hashtag #RockPaperScissors on Twitter!