Paul Simon and Sting: On Stage Together

London, GB
O2 Arena

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

posted by mikeii
An unforgettable evening
I feel extremely fortunate on many levels to have experienced this show for myself. This tour was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see two of the finest songwriters and performers in rock history sharing a stage together - and they delivered in spades at this show. I have read some critics describing Sting and Paul Simon as an ‘odd couple’. I disagree. Both are superb songwriters who have explored an incredibly diverse range of genres. Both are brilliant and instantly recognisable vocalists. Both are dynamic live performers. And both have had long and successful careers - they come from an era when artists were able to follow their own natural creative path, without being run into the ground before they even had a chance to show their musical versatility, as is invariably the case in the modern industry. Most importantly, the basis of their success has always been on what really counts - their music. When I first became a fan of Sting over twenty years ago, he was recording and touring with a very special line-up. Sting himself on bass and vocals, Dominic Miller on guitar, David Sancious on keyboards and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. For me, they are just the perfect Sting band. Quite apart from being world class musicians in their respective fields, the four of them have a certain chemistry. They recorded Ten Summoner’s Tales together, which is one of my all-time favourite albums. I believe they played their last show together in 1994. I was delighted, then, that some 15 years later all four of them got back together and have been touring ever since. Now augmented by backing vocalist Jo Lawry and Peter Tickell on fiddle, as evidenced by the show I witnessed on 15th April, this line-up is now stronger than ever. The On Stage Together show consisted of interweaving sets by both artists with contributions from various members of each of their bands. Some songs, such as ‘Fields of Gold’, were converted into duets. This particular example worked beautifully and was one of the highlights of the evening for me. Sting’s cover of Paul’s ‘America’ was sublime, as was Paul’s interpretation of the vocal on Sting’s ‘Fragile’. ’So Lonely’ was the opening song of Sting’s first solo set. This got everybody on their feet. Vinnie Colaiuta adds so much ‘spring’ to this song - there is something about the tone he gets out of the drums which sets him apart from literally every other drummer out there. The use of one of Paul Simon’s horn players was an interesting addition to this song! This was followed by ‘When the World is Running Down’, which was a real thrill for me. Having never seen this line-up live before, hearing David Sancious’ keyboard solo in person was a special moment. ‘Englishman in New York’ was yet another highlight that got everyone singing. I love the new inversions that Sting has brought into ‘Shape of My Heart’, and the instrumental break which has been doubled in length. ‘Driven to Tears’ was properly loud, with some furious soloing from Peter Tickell on fiddle. This part of the set closed with ‘Walking On the Moon’, which again got everyone singing. Notable throughout Sting’s sets was Vinnie’s almost unbelievable ability to play these very quick but incredibly advanced drum fills. If there were any minor tremors in London that night, then there’s the man to blame. Quite astonishing. Using an excellent duet of ‘Mrs Robinson’ as a switchover, Paul then took over for his first solo set. I was massively impressed with him and his band. As is also the case with Sting, it is wonderful how, at the age of 73, Paul’s ability to perform has not diminished in any way. His voice is as strong as it ever was. He offered up five excellent performances including ’50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’ (everyone singing along once again), ‘Graceland’ and ‘Dazzling Blue’, a song from his newest studio album So Beautiful Or So What. ‘Fragile’ was the switchover song before Sting’s second set, and after his beautiful interpretation of ‘America’, the band immediately launched into ‘Message in a Bottle’. Everyone singing along again and up and dancing. This was followed by yet more brilliance from Vinnie, with his press roll intro to ‘The Hounds of Winter’, which I’m pretty sure he could have continued for at least the next week or two if he wanted to. Jo Lawry’s incredible backing vocal was very much in evidence here. Then we had ‘Roxanne’, which, apart from demonstrating quite plainly that I can’t sing anywhere near as high as Sting, morphed into a rendition of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. ‘Desert Rose’ closed this part of the set, and was followed by another beautiful duet on ‘The Boxer’. Then it was Paul’s turn to get everyone up and dancing. I was seriously impressed by Paul’s bass player, particularly on ‘You Can Call Me Al’. Brilliant. This part of the set allowed Paul’s band to show off their world class abilities a little more. It was a great build-up to the climax of the show. ‘Every Breath You Take’ once again worked brilliantly as a duet, and then of course we had ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. Sting’s vocal on this is sublime. He puts everything into it and takes the song to some other level. Annoyingly however, with the O2 being the kind of venue that it is, I made a dash for it at this point to get to the tube and train to take me back to Richmond. But the show left me buzzing. I’m still buzzing. It was quite incredible, not least because I finally got to see that wonderful Sting line-up live after all these years. And quite plainly, they are still just as special together, if not more so than they ever were previously. I very much hope to see them again at some time. But this show really was something else. Indeed, the Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine was there that night and he described it on Twitter as the best show he has seen in years. Yes, Jeremy. I can see why.
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