Paul Simon and Sting: On Stage Together

Sydney, NSW, AU
Qantas Credit Union Arena
Sting, Simon prove their class...

You can punch out all sorts of superlatives to describe the Paul Simon and Sting live concert experience. But one word stands out: wow.

The duo, set to play their last Australian shows on the South Perth foreshore on Saturday and Sunday night, played to about 13,000 fans at Sydney’s Qantas Arena on Friday night.

And unless Friday night was an anomaly (which I’m almost positive it wasn’t) everyone who is going to the Perth concerts is in for a treat.

The two long-time pals formed the concept for the tour during a benefit concert in 2013 where they performed together for the first time.

The tour crisscrossed the US last year, taking a break for Sting’s Broadway appearances in The Last Ship, before coming Down Under.

And though in some respects it is a bit of an odd coupling - the strong, sexual Sting and the soft, sensitive Simon - somehow it just works.

Visually the 1.6m Simon is towered over by the bearded Sting who, at 63, still looks like he could complete a triathlon, play a gig and then complete one of his “other” long sessions.

And though Simon looks as if he’s been hitting the gym with the effervescent one-time Police frontman, there is a little bit of Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins about them.

Musically, their differences are probably more profound than their similarities. But, when you have two artists with back catalogues that could keep 94.5FM going for five hours straight, well, why not join forces?

The first thing noticeable on arrival is the sheer number of musicians. When on stage together the duo are backed by a 16-piece band -16 of the best musicians you’ll find in the world, including drummers, percussion, many guitarists, many singers, a horn section, keys and a violinist-mandolinist (who is spectacular).

A highlight is Simon’s multi-instrumentalist Mark Stewart, who plays slide and regular guitar as well as baritone sax, cello and penny whistle. It sounds unreal.

In terms of the song selection, it is essentially a greatest-hits set, with a few surprises.

Sting’s 'Brand New Day' kicked things off in Sydney, with a few songs - and rehearsed banter - together before Simon left the stage.

In solo mode, Sting was superb. 'When the World is Running Down (You Can’t Go Wrong)', 'So Lonely' (complete with tuba and violin solos) and 'Walking on the Moon' were all punched out with real energy.

After those mega hits, Sting left and Simon walked back on stage to bang out 'Mrs Robinson', '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover' and 'Graceland' - a pretty decent three-song combination.

A bit of Creole-inspired jamming brought Sting to the stage again for 'Fragile', sharing the vocals with Simon - and, again, it was brilliant.

The voices of Simon and Sting both sounded superb, with Sting particularly virile. Simon sounded on the money and was much more relaxed in his demeanour than during his previous visit to Australia.

The one drawback - and it kept this show from going into the five-star category - is it all seems entirely rehearsed. The banter was obviously rehearsed and the solos from the brilliant backing band, though excellent, seemed so time-sensitive there must have been someone with a stopwatch out the back - there are definitely no Neil Young Crazy Horse-style jams at a Simon and Sting concert.

I won’t spoil the end but Sting comes back on and plays the Police mega hits, with the highlight being 'Roxanne' - complete with funky breakdown into Bill Withers’ 'Ain’t no Sunshine' seguing back into the 'Roxanne' crescendo - just superb. The encore is one for the ages.

Paul Simon and Sting play Sir James Mitchell Park this Saturday and Sunday at 5pm.

(c) The West Australian by Nick Sas

Paul Simon and Sting live review: Better together and with less of the jazz...

It's something the promoters gazing across full arenas, not to mention the long queues of people making their way to their seats in the full arenas, would tell you. You're not likely to go wrong with two deep catalogues of songs that either fill the contemporary American songbook or populate the contemporary greatest hits radio playlists.

And certainly reports from earlier in this tour were of the waxing euphoric nature, raves which seemed perfectly within reason as the show started with verve, pleasure and a big, rich sound. Here were New York's Paul Simon (who once was Tom in Tom and Jerry but thought better of it) and Newcastle's Sting (who once was Gordon Sumner and thought better of it, even as he aged while the nickname didn't) together at the front of a 15-piece band, sharing the singing - but not the harmonies: Sting is no Art Garfunkel-style foil; more a companion voice - on the Englishman's 'Brand New Day' and 'Fields Of Gold' and the American's 'Boy In The Bubble' and 'Mrs Robinson'.

Oddly enough, it was when they split for individual mini-sets rather than when the tall one and the short one, the strong singer and the gentle one, the confident one and the uncomfortable one were next to each other, that differences were accentuated.

What struck most was how light on their feet Simon's songs are, how nimble they are not just in rhythm but in their accommodation of his explorations outside the hamlet of white man singer/songwriter. Whether it was the folksy 'Cecilia' (sung with Sting), the loping joy of 'Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes' or the subtle groove of 'Dazzling Blue', they glided across the stage.

What struck next, if you saw him just under two years when he toured without Novocastrian accompaniment, is how looser he is this time, how unburdened he comes across. He is still no natural raconteur (his stories/jokes tend to peter out; his introductions are not quite focused) but compared with 2013, he was positively lively, bouncing across the stage, dancing a bit and mimicking the washboard being played in the busy N'awlins shuffle of 'That Was Your Mother'.

Sting is far more polished a performer: at ease in chat, smooth in introduction, unlikely to dance but able to take a very good bow - and do a beguiling interpretation of Simon's 'America'. What struck most about his songs is, just like his personal presentation, how carefully formed they are, how earnest they are in presentation compared with those of Simon's.

In the main I'm talking about his solo material such as '7 Days' and 'The Hounds Of Winter' which induced a lot of nodding your head in appreciation of the playing, a lot of saying of things like "my, aren't they clever expanding on those elements in their elaborations" and a lot of thinking, "ok if we get a whole night of this quasi-'70s jazz pop we could be in trouble". While the Police material was mostly given a fuller sound (thick brass in 'Walking On The Moon', for example) rather than noodling expansion ('Driven To Tears' the somewhat overthought exception), outside of them Sting's sections were more to be appreciated than revelled in.

Wisely then, having finished the set proper with the spring-the-audience-from-their-seats 'You Can Call Me Al', the encores paired 'Cecilia' and 'Every Breath You Take' (the anti-romance song still inducing disturbing clinginess in most couples in the audience) and then climaxed firstly with 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and then a duo-version of the Everly Brothers' 'When Will I Be Loved'. We didn't need earnest musicianship for those pleasures.

(c) Sydney Morning Herald by Bernatd Zuel

Paul Simon and Sting review – well-worn classics from two songwriting giants...

What do you get when you combine a chiselled Novacastrian with a pocket-sized 72-year old from New Jersey? On Friday Sting and Paul Simon brought to Sydney Arena a 17-strong band, a deep sense of mutual respect, and a peek into their decades-long songwriting pilgrimages, with musical styles handpicked from around the globe.

Simon and his band mesmerised as they played the complex rhythms and phrasings of the South African zulu styles of Mbaqanga and Isicathamiya. Rousing renditions of Graceland’s 'Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes' and 'You Can Call Me Al' provided the most energy. However the singer-songwriter showed his best hand with the more intricate 'Hearts and Bones', intensified by a spine-tingling sax solo, and the Rhodes piano-driven 'Still Crazy After All These Years'.

At times Simon was outshone, somewhat, by Sting and the reggae-rock classics of his former band the Police, including 'So Lonely', 'Message in a Bottle' and 'Roxanne' (the latter with a predictably red-lit stage). Sting’s greatest strength is still his heart-warming upper register. And special mention must go to Adelaide jazz singer Jo Lawry, who was enlisted to help with duets and accompaniment, such as in the haunting 'Hounds of Winter' and Arabic-influenced 'Desert Rose'.

But when the two powers came together to perform each other’s songs in duet the music became muddled, and the experience a little frustrating. 'Mrs Robinson' lacked energy and emotion, with harmonies out of sync. The same occurred in 'Fields of Gold', perhaps because both singers tend to play around with variations on phrasing.

This took a turn for the better with 'The Boxer' and Simon’s clever interpretation of Sting’s delicate ode, 'Fragile'. The highlight of their song-sharing came when Sting took Simon and Garfunkel’s epic fable 'America' with just a baby acoustic guitar, delivering a performance with plenty of emotion, and that will unlikely be forgotten by the 13,000 rapt fans. The night culminated in a memorable encore with 'Cecilia', 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'.

(c) The Guardian by Heather Kitchener
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