Paul Simon and Sting: On Stage Together
Feb
15
2014
Los Angeles, USForum
2
share

Paul Simon And Sting Make Sweet Music At The Forum In Los Angeles...

At first thought it seemed a divergent coupling - Paul Simon and Sting, obviously both tremendous songwriters, each with a formidable and timeless body of work. But together? Would that work? Some people suggested that Sting was a true rock star, whereas Mr. Simon was a folkie, and would be hopelessly outshone. But as time has shown, Paul Simon moves from triumph to triumph, and last night at the Forum was a new chapter of joy in one of America's most remarkable songwriting stories.

In fact, Simon rocked as hard as Sting. And Sting showed his gentle side too - career-wise, he was embracing softer textures just as Simon began experimenting with global rhythms - and so a ballad like "Fields of Gold" emerged, as melodically poignant as any Simon song. Those in the know know that Simon and Sting had been neighbors for years in the same Central Park West building, and were friends. But what would happen if they merged their shows? The answer is a sum much bigger than its two astounding parts. Not only did they weave their sets together, often trading verses and harmonizing, they melded their bands. So there were two drummers often - and even two bassists (Simon's longstanding Graceland genius, Bakithi Kumalo - and Sting, who played bass on most of his songs). So we had 18 musicians on stage - drummers, percussion, many guitarists (especially the saintly Vince Nguini, whose rich electric guitar lines and textures add a whole dimension rarely attempted, let alone heard), singers, a horn section, a violinist-mandolinist, keys - and Simon's Swiss Army Knife of a multi-instrumentalist Mark Stewart, who played slide and regular guitar (wonderful on "Graceland" especially) as well as baritone sax, cello, and penny-whistle.

Simon seemed especially happy, and was funny from the start. After a spirited opening of Sting's "Brand New Day" morphing into Simon's "Boy In The Bubble," Simon said, "Welcome to our experiment. As time goes on, I am sure we will become even more like each other. Soon I will also have the body of an Adonis, and have sex for weeks at a time." He also welcomed the audience to the newly-opened and refurbished Forum, former home of the Lakers, by saying, "This is great here. I expect to see Magic Johnson and Jack Nicholson right in front."

More than anything, what came across was a tremendous mutual respect. Simon has only done this kind of tour - sharing the spotlight - once before, with a guy named Dylan. Who is known for being a rather great songwriter. When Paul and Bob sang together, as they did on "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and other songs, it was Paul - just like Joan Baez used to do - trying to match Dylan's unpredictable phrasing. It was fun to hear, and funny - but not great music. Whereas Simon and Sting, well, you could tell these guys practiced. They joined their spirits musically with seamless soul, enlivened by the greatness of each other's material. Sting sang beautiful and perfect harmony on "The Boxer," one of the most famous two-part harmony songs of all time, and also took on Art Garfunkel's famous soaring beauty on "Bridge Over Troubled Water," easily nailing the dramatically stratospheric ending.

Simon added his sweet tenor to "Fields of Gold," which flowed with great wistful beauty, and also inserted his shine into "Every Breath You Take," which like a lot of his songs, appears at first to be lyrically simpler than it is, hiding in its tunefulness an ominous mystery.

As Simon once told me, he's long been considered a folksinger "because of proximity to an acoustic guitar." And it's true that few songwriters have ever touched the folky, gentle heart of some of his finest songs, such as "The Boxer." But if last night showed us anything, it's that Simon has steadily been accumulating an astonishing collection of upbeat songs, work as invigorating and uplifting as any, starting back with the mysterious ska dimensions of "Mother and Child Reunion" (one of the first reggae-tinged tracks ever to touch American pop radio, long before Sting employed similar rhythms with The Police), "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" (with its intoxicating martial drum groove, as invented by Steve Gadd), "Late In The Evening" (maybe his best song ever about the sheer power of music itself, emboldened by its great groove and New York-Latin horn exhortations), and "Me and Julio" - which is both sweet and undeniable. Add to that a chain of songs from his landmark Graceland, including the title song, plus "Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes" (which got the audience crazy with elation), "Boy In The Bubble" (with its big bass drum slams linked to portentous minor-key accordion and one of Simon's most modern and timeless lyrics, "...these are the days of miracle and wonder"), the New Orleans temporal gumbo of "That Was Your Mother," and, of course, "You Can Call Me Al," which is just pure fun - though always with the Simon genius blending, as he explained, colloquial and enriched language, so that in the same song we get "A man walks down a street" like the opening of an old joke, to the promise of "angels spinning in infinity."

We also unexpectedly got the opening song of The Rhythm of the Saints, "The Obvious Child," with its enigmatic linking of baseball and Christianity. "The cross is in the ballpark...¦" And as a special gift to his fans who adored one of his lesser known masterpieces, Hearts and Bones, he played a brilliantly sweet rendition of that title song, with its bi-coastal, duo-religious opening: "One and one-half wandering Jews/free to wander wherever they choose...¦" And he also gave us "Still Crazy After All These Years," with its breathtaking chromatic bridge and famous soaring sax solo. Even among this profusion of riches, Simon gave us more, a charged version of a song he often refers to as his favorite, "Mystery Train," by Junior Parker. These are the roots of this man's rhythm, before folk and Dylan infiltrated his world.

Sting spoke of being humbled by the sheer magnitude of Simon's work, which was a touching tribute coming from this fellow giant. He then launched into his own successive masterpieces, new and old. "Fragile," with its worldly melodics and tender humanity, was an ideal duet with Simon, who embraced its spirit like one of his own. And though Sting eluded several of his biggest solo hits, such as "If You Love Somebody," he did dip into his Police days with "Message In A Bottle" and "Roxanne," and also gave us a gorgeous turn on "Driven To Tears." He said that, like a lot of Brits, he often yearned to write American country songs, and felt validated in this pursuit when Johnny Cash recorded his song "Hang Your Head." It was a revelation, visceral in an odd time signature that was hypnotic. But perhaps Sting's most exhilarating performance was his "Desert Rose," with its Turkish, Middle-eastern melodics - a kind of world music even Paul Simon hasn't utilized - and his band on fire, whirling in the ecstatic dervish of this extraordinary song.

Sting spoke about the baby days of The Police, when they drove through all of America in a little car, staying in cheap motels, playing to mostly empty clubs. The mystery, sorrow and joy of those days, he said, were best expressed by Simon in his classic "America," which Sting then sang himself, to a breezy tempo on an acoustic guitar.

Like the recent Beatles show and special, the big question here was just how will they end the show. It was the song many consider Simon's greatest, "Bridge Over Troubled Water," with Sting valiantly taking over the Garfunkel portion as if he's sung it his whole life. Standing ovation. And then, after the last band number, with the huge ensemble joining at stage front and then dissembling, Simon and Sting remained, and did one last song - just the two of them - acoustic. It was a tribute to a man who Simon said was both a great friend, and an idol, Phil Everly: "How Will I Be Loved," with Simon and Sting joining their voices in perfect and poignant harmony. It was a simple and stunning closer to an extraordinary night. The new Forum was mostly great - beautifully fresh and refurbished inside, with excellent sound (especially by the third song, when the lead vocals got dialed in right).

The only drawback to the place - and it's a big one - is that for some reason, unlike the similarly immense Staples with its many exit doors on many sides - this had very few exits, so that the gargantuan crowd had to squeeze very slowly through long winding corridors, not unlike sheep to the slaughter, at a snail's pace, before finally ascending stairs to eventual freedom. As many crowded in this crowd soberly noted, were there (God forbid) a fire, earthquake or other occurrence that would require fast evacuation, it would be impossible, and result in a disaster of vast proportions. How fire marshalls ever approved this plan is staggering. This would be problematic anywhere, but especially here in earthquake country where such an exit could become urgently necessary at any moment; it' egregious and hard to fathom. Forum folks - before there is a terrible accident - open more doors please! But it wasn't enough to diminish the impact of this momentous show, this great melding of music by two of the world's finest songwriters and singers. Paul and Sting seemed to have as much fun as we did. And that was infectious. We got three solid hours of amazing material, performed by two true pros with a small army of world-class musicians. It was a joyful night, and a great reminder that even in our technology-obsessed world, nothing can touch the greatness of real musicians joining together on great songs. Rejoice.

(c) American Songwriter by Paul Zollo

Paul Simon & Sting @ The Forum - Musical heavyweights share the stage...

As any working sap can attest, the three-day weekend is a beautiful thing. Fifty percent longer than the typical break from the work week, a long weekend is something to be savored, each precious hour a blessing from the labor gods, and I usually try to make mine count with a carefully calculated mix of productivity and recreation developed over years as a devout follower of the work-hard-play-hard mindset.

However, when this President's Day weekend kicked off on Saturday, all I could think about was how to make the hours go by as fast as possible. I rewatched nearly half a season of Orange Is The New Black on Netflix, took a long nap, and even bothered to curl my hair all so I could make it to 8 PM as quickly as possible. You see, that was when I was going to scratch a white whale off my musical bucket list. I was going to see Paul Simon.

I've long claimed Graceland as one of my top-five, dessert-island, couldn't-live-without-it albums, and Simon's pre-solo work as one-half of that old Art Garfunkel project holds a special place in my heart as well. However, in my thirty (*gulp*) years on this planet, I'd never had the opportunity to see the man behind so many of my favorite songs live, so when I found out he would be playing two shows at the newly renovated Forum in Inglewood, I made it my mission to get out to one of the shows.

No surprise then that I took my place in one of the venues 17,500 seats a full forty-five minutes before set time. No jamzilla traffic or GPS malfunction was going to stand between me and this show. Oh, and did I forget to mention that this would be no ordinary Paul Simon concert (pshaw, like any Paul Simon concert could be considered "ordinary")? Nope, for this tour, Simon had joined forces with his buddy Sting for an "Evening With" series of dates during which the two artists would be performing both separately and on stage together, making an already special evening even more magical.

You'd think expectations as high as mine would be impossible to meet, yet somehow Paul Simon and Sting managed to exceed them. From the moment the two stepped out on stage together for set opener "Brand New Day," I was enthralled. The 13+ member backing band was on point throughout the night, delivering new arrangements of some tracks ("Boy In The Bubble" got a denser, less-bouncy treatment, while "The Boxer" was given an Americana spin), while others were so close to the recordings, I had trouble believing they were being performed live.

While obviously I went into the show primarily as a fan of Paul Simon, I assumed I would leave the venue with a newfound appreciation of Sting, and I did, but not in the way I had expected. Turns out I was already a fan of Sting and just didn't know it. As the evening progressed and I heard more of his catalog, I realized that most of his songs were already favorites of mine; I just didn't know he was the artist to release them all. Needless to say, Paul Simon's weren't the only songs I found myself singing along to, and the portions of the show during which Sting was on stage solo were just as enjoyable as those featuring Mr. Simon.

At one point, Sting bluntly kicked Paul off stage so he could say nice things about his old friend (a testament to their mutual respect and genuine affection for one another) before performing the Simon classic "America" solo. He prefaced the song with the observation that one of the beautiful things about Simon's catalog is how so many of his songs can conjure up different times and places in the listener's life and shared a story of how he first fell in love with that particular track when he and his band were touring the States for the first time and sleeping in cheap hotel rooms.

As the evening wound to a close, I found myself reflecting on all the times and places in my life that are intrinsically linked to Paul Simon's music: my 9th grade English teacher using "The Sounds Of Silence" to teach us about poetry; my husband and I debating the meaning of the line "ever since the watermelon" in "All Around The World" (spoiler alert: there is no meaning); hearing "America" play during my first viewing of Almost Famous and knowing that the movie would become one of my all-time favorites.

But all these little moments couldn't compare to the three hours I spent in Inglewood Saturday night, wishing for time to slow down as fervently as I had hoped for it to speed up earlier in the day. While the evening eventually did end, I'm grateful that my record collection is at the ready anytime I want to be transported back to my special evening with Paul Simon and Sting at the Forum, a new landmark on my musical journey and one I won't soon forget.

(c) LA Music Blog by Kristin Houser

Paul Simon and Sting Prove an Inspired Pairing: Concert Review...

You've got to hand it Paul Simon and Sting. Each could have easily staged another reunion tour with their respective erstwhile partners (Art Garfunkel and the Police), gone on their own greatest hits victory lap, or even revived a few of their classic albums on stage, but instead the two veteran singer-songwriters have launched one of the most surprising, daring, and rewarding double bills we're likely to see this year.

Not only did Simon and Sting share the bill Saturday at the Forum, but they shared the stage for about a third of the two-hour-and-40-minute set, dueting on each other's hits, and even taking solo spins on one another's songs.

On paper it may seem like a odd couple. The New Jersey-born Simon, now 72, did some of his greatest work back in the '60s with his partner Garfunkel, writing and performing songs that deserve a place in the great American songbook, and went on to launch a successful solo career exploring world music. The British-born Sting, 10 years his junior and a recognized sex symbol, first gained notoriety in the late '70s, fronting a punk-era trio that went on to astronomical pop success.

Indeed, as time has passed, Sting's edge has softened and the two performers share a good portion of the same aging baby boomer audience. And there's the music. Simon's first solo hit, 1972's "Mother and Child Reunion," mined reggae years before Sting launched his own punky-reggae party with the Police, and both have gone on to take various forays into different world music throughout their careers. New York City neighbors since the late '80s, the two came up with the idea for the tour after testing the waters with a two-song performance at a benefit last May, and finding they work surprising well together.

It also worked wonderfully at the Forum. The pair opened the show onstage together with Sting on bass and Simon on acoustic guitar and backed by 13 musicians -- including horns, strings, keyboards, background singers and a myriad of percussion. Sting's "Brand New Day" segued to Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" and then back to Sting's "Fields of Gold," with the two trading verses and licks with their fellow musicians. As Simon noted early on, the tour is "a little experiment, melding bands and repertoire and music every night for something different. By the end of the tour," he quipped, "maybe I'll have the body of an Adonis and will have sex for weeks on end."

While Simon's stud transformation is doubtful, he was in strong voice and performed with as much vigor as his younger counterpart throughout the night. The highlights -- too many to mention here (see full set list below) -- included Sting's soaring renditions of the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "Message in the Bottle" and "Roxanne," and a scorching "Driven to Tears," along with Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," "Graceland," and "Mother and Child Reunion."

But the moments when the two shared the stage were the most magical. A particularly moving segment had Simon starting Sting's "Fragile" with Sting then accompanying him on acoustic guitar. Simon's aging, but still sturdy voice brought new vulnerability to the tune, enhanced by cello and trumpet. It was a simply exquisite version that prompted Simon, who seemed genuinely moved, to proclaim, "I love that song." Sting returned the compliment, noting he's "humbled and inspired" by Simon's body of work. He then recalled his first trip to America with the Police -- whom he referred to only as "the band" -- before launching into a stunning version of Simon & Garfunkel's "America."

About the night's only misstep was their take of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" in which their harmonies weren't quite in sync, but even that only seemed to add to the evening's charm.

The pair topped the magical night with an encore that included a duet version of the Police's "Every Breath You Take," and Sting taking Garfunkel's lead on "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Bathed in blue lights as a churchy organ swelled, he simply killed the song's final note, leaving no doubt that the Simon-Sting pairing is a success.

The duo finished the night alone on stage with acoustic guitars with Simon paying tribute to the recently departed Phil Everly. "He was one of my idols. I can't tell you have much I loved that guy," Simon said before they launched into a sweet version of the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved." Of course, the answer for Simon and Sting on this tour is right here and now.

(c) Hollywood Reporter by Craig Rosen

Paul Simon & Sting a perfect pair at the Forum - Rich with gems and harmonious duets, their touring collaboration is one for the ages...

They certainly could have made a splashier entrance had they wanted to Saturday night at the Fabulous Forum.

Here, after all, were two of popular music's most enduring and influential artists - a 72-year-old American songwriting institution and a genre-busting Brit a decade his junior - sharing the stage together on tour for the first time, an unexpected endeavor that nonetheless makes perfect aesthetic sense. Yet there are so few precedents for such a monumental meet-up that it's hard not to anticipate elements from earlier pairings, particularly the energizing dazzle Elton John and Billy Joel often relied upon during their many outings.

As their deep catalogs and live histories attest, however, Paul Simon and Sting have never been the sorts to indulge in too much flash. So it made sense that they would downplay the stature of the event by simply strolling out and leisurely starting their lengthy combined performance with mellower material. You know you're in for an evening of focused attention when the third song ("Fields of Gold") is one of the quietest all night.

These are fundamentally musicians' musicians, whose "little experiment of melding bands," as Simon called it - totaling 14 supporting players in all, including accomplished aces like drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, keyboardist David Sancious and, most crucially, multi-instrumentalist Mark Stewart - wisely had no wider focus than presenting the best possible blend of the headliners' worlds.

The goal, Sting told Rolling Stone, is to raise the game for these creatively restless icons. What could have been nothing more than a high-priced stunt, then, commendably finds each legend helping the other uncover fresh nuances in oft-performed classics. The evident, grinning joy they share in taking on that challenge is infectious and engrossing. More than 30 songs in three hours still felt like an appetizer; I left hungry for more, contemplating other morsels I wish could have fit on their plate.

I pointed this out when tour dates (including the next night's replay at Honda Center in Anaheim) were announced, but it bears repeating: Even on paper this is vastly superior to Simon's ill-advised trek with Bob Dylan in 1999, during which the author of "Mrs. Robinson" and "Graceland" struggled to comport his fluid style with the Bard's general roughness. They also played jarringly disconnected sets back then, whereas Simon and Sting have taken their "On Stage Together" boast seriously, trading off seamlessly (sometimes humorously) and performing nearly a third of the set as duets.

Naturally, those were the highlights. Each artist was in top form on his own - Sting deftly enlivened the drama of "I Hung My Head," Simon superbly delivered conversational readings of "Hearts and Bones" and "Still Crazy After All These Years" - but the collaborative moments were the real enticements of this package, and they kept getting stronger as the performance wore on.

At the outset this odd couple (a bald Adonis and an adorable schlub) stuck to trading verses, capably so for "The Boy in the Bubble" and "Fields of Gold." By the middle of the show their choices grew bolder: Simon proved his love for the Brazilian-tinged "Fragile," Sting's most emotionally resonant composition, by rendering it with the seen-it-all gravitas of a wizened New Yorker. Sting did him one better, following that prayerful piece by personalizing "America," one of the finest songs in the English language, zeroing in on the fine line where its sense of wonder turns to foreboding about the future.

We've seen Simon perform with a tall, high-voiced gent before, of course, so selections that found Sting in the Art Garfunkel role elicit tougher scrutiny. Yet his approach to stepping into such well-worn shoes was brilliantly logical: rather than emulate, he brought his own feel to very familiar melodies without trampling on their structures, nailing every high note and angelic harmony.

One of the strongest singers in any field, he was in especially great voice Saturday night, whether scaling the heights of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" or exuding beleaguered hope in a delicately detailed "They Dance Alone." What he brought to a chills-inducing reading of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in the encore, though, was worth any admission price.

Even Simon looked sincerely wowed, and the glow from it lingered, carrying into the final number, a heartfelt tribute to Phil Everly via an acoustic "When Will I Be Loved" that reminded as much of Simon's Tom & Jerry roots with Garfunkel as it did his love of the Everly Brothers.

If that ending isn't enough to convince you this was a pairing for the ages, consider the livelier stuff: "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," begun with a calypso vibe and finished as if marching off to Mardi Gras; a match-up of reggae forays, from "Love Is the Seventh Wave" into "Mother and Child Reunion"; rips through Police mainstays "Roxanne" and "Message in a Bottle"; the Zydeco wiggle of "That Was Your Mother" and the belly dance of "Desert Rose" and the Latin rush of "Late in the Evening"; and a terrifically buoyant and percussive stretch from "The Obvious Child" to "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" to "You Can Call Me Al."

That's exactly what fans of either artist should have expected - but "Bridge" and an equally stirring reading of "The Boxer" were extraordinary extras. We aren't likely to witness anything like them again. What a marvelous meeting of musical minds, the stuff of future legend.

(c) The O.C. Register by Ben Wener

Paul Simon and Sting come together at the Forum...

The tricky work of streamlining complicated ideas united Paul Simon and Sting when the veteran rockers teamed for a joint concert at the Forum in Inglewood on Saturday.

The two songwriters, among rock's most ambitious and proudly erudite, emerged from dramatically different scenes, and at different times - Simon during the New York folk revival of the mid-1960s, Sting as frontman of London's post-punk Police.

Yet both went on to become world-class pop stars known for pondering big themes - love, of course, but also patriotism, faith and mortality - in songs that had no trouble catching hold on the radio.

And Saturday's show, the first of two Southland dates on the duo's North American arena tour, seemed designed to emphasize their similarities, even as Simon welcomed the audience to "our little experiment." (The tour is to stop Sunday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim.)

Backed by more than a dozen musicians drawn from each man's expert road band, Simon, 72, and Sting, 62, began the Forum gig trading lines in duet versions of Sting's "Brand New Day" and Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble."

From there, the two alternated turns at center stage, with the band's lineup shifting to suit the requirements of each tune; the singers rejoined forces at various points for a handful of cuts, including an appealingly rootsy rendition of "The Boxer" set over a lively locomotive rhythm.

No matter who was present, though, the music employed luscious melodies and ear-grabbing textures to frame (and sometimes soften) thoughts not necessarily geared to the pop-song format.

In the bouncy "Englishman in New York," Sting considered the alienating effects of emigration, while over plush soft-pop keyboard in "Still Crazy After All These Years," Simon addressed the quiet disappointment of middle age - a concern that many in the graying audience could likely appreciate.

Elsewhere, the two men took up notions of crime and punishment, Simon sketching a portrait of big-city delinquency in "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," Sting outlining the ramifications of an accidental murder in "I Hung My Head," described by the singer as his attempt to write a country song.

Other styles made their way into the show, as in an angular, hard-funk take on "Roxanne" by the Police and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," from Simon's groundbreaking African-pop immersion album, "Graceland." Ceding the spotlight to Simon in one changeover, Sting linked his ska-inflected "Love Is the Seventh Wave" to "Mother and Child Reunion," which Simon recorded in Jamaica.

Those different strands cohered thanks to assured singing and playing by everyone onstage, particularly Simon's two guitarists, Mark Stewart and Vincent Nguini, who brought color and detail to an early-rock medley of "Mystery Train" and Chet Atkins' "Wheels." Playing one of three full kits onstage, Sting's drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta, was crucial too, maintaining a steady groove in the elaborately arranged "They Dance Alone."

Yet all that professionalism sometimes provided too much gloss. "Fields of Gold," "You Can Call Me Al," "Message in a Bottle" - these familiar hits slid by without making much of an impact, their eccentricities rubbed smooth through overuse. An obligatory duet on "Every Breath You Take" was even worse; it had none of the queasy menace that defined the original single.

Another gripe: Neither singer did enough of his strong recent work. The concert included only one track, the delicate "Dazzling Blue," from Simon's superb 2011 album "So Beautiful or So What." And Sting didn't play anything at all from September's "The Last Ship," with handsome songs from a new musical set to open this fall on Broadway (a decade and a half, you may recall, after Simon's own theatrical foray with "The Capeman").

At this point in their careers, these two entertainers know the demands of an arena concert. But the set list here felt occasionally like a failure of imagination.

Not at the end, though. After a "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in which Sting took some welcome liberties with Art Garfunkel's indelible vocal part, the pair concluded Saturday's concert by harmonizing through a stripped-down rendition of the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved."

They presented the cover as a tribute to Phil Everly, who died last month. But in its stirring elegance, the performance also honored the perhaps unlikely bond between Simon and Sting: not brothers, not even contemporaries, but fellow travelers in pursuit of the same goal.

(c) The Los Angeles Times by Mikael Wood

SET LIST

COMMENTS 2
karawolff February 17,2014
WOW!
Thank you beyond belief, drmo1 for the touching, humorous, revealing and inspiring review you took the time to share on 2/17!! As someone who desperately wished to attend this one, you make every moment; every nuance come alive. What a talented writer you are...second career? :) Infinite gratitude to you for sharing a once-in-a-lifetime musical, magical experience! I'm 50 too BTW, isn't it rockin' awesome?! ;)
drmo1 February 17,2014
An unforgettable evening.
From the late 60’s to the early ’90’s, the “Fabulous” Forum had hosted the Lakers, the Kings and countless legendary concerts from Led Zeppelin to Barbra Streisand. Growing up, I saw the Eagles play there, on their Hotel California tour. I saw Kiss record their “Alive II” album. I saw Alice Cooper. The Jacksons, on the pre-Thriller “Triumph” tour. The Police with Oingo Boingo. J. Geils Band, with opening act, U2. Billy Joel. Genesis. Prince (with the Forum lit up purple). Peter Gabriel. Springsteen. The Forum and I go way back. Admittedly aged, it had fallen into further disrepair after the Lakers left for the Staples Center, and was only used for religious services and the occasional concert. The same folks who own Madison Square Garden purchased the Forum, and decided to turn it into the largest, “show” only venue (no sports) in North America. More importantly, they wanted to turn it into the best venue of its’ kind. Attention was not only paid to how the performers would actually be seen, but above all else, heard. The giant scoreboard was removed. Reflective surfaces baffled by fabric. Sightlines improved. State of the art speaker system installed. Safety issues were emphasized as well. The stairways were brightly lit. Workers with mops and portable WetVacs scurried about, sucking up beer spills. Security detail circled in constant patrol. Cosmetic improvements included upholstered chairs and carpeted hallways. New vendors (Pink’s Hot Dog vendors strolled the aisles). Full bars every fifty feet. Beer service every twenty-five. Sparkling new exterior paint job, with the main building a vivid, bold red, and the crisp, white palisades lit with varying colors as you make your way from your car to the venue. We made it through security, down a hallway lined with giant photos of past performers, including many of those I mentioned above. There were big posters of Queen, Stevie Wonder, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, ZZ Top… After a stop at the bar for a cocktail, we made our way to our floor seats. My wife chit-chatted with an impossibly tall Brad Garrett (from “Everybody Loves Raymond” among other things), seated behind us. We then noticed the acoustics. You could talk to people sitting around you, and not have to yell. It was quiet. Yes, there thousands of people all yakking it up, but it was…controlled. Almost intimate. You wouldn’t notice it unless somebody mentioned it, but after that, you couldn’t HELP noticing it. The stage was littered with dozens of instrumental set-ups. Two full drum kits. At least two percussion lay-outs. Keyboards to the right, horn section to the left. Guitars strewn everywhere. The house lights dimmed; the crowd roared. (When James Lipton asks me what is my favorite sound or noise, that’s what I’m going to say.) The stage lit up, and musician after musician sauntered up to their respective position, smiles radiant. Then the two guys came out. Sting and Paul Simon. Like I said, I’m turning 50 this year, and I was a “young whippersnapper” compared to the average age of this audience. Yet the crowd still sounded like we were at a One Direction concert. The swaying, guitar arpeggio intro to “Brand New Day” started us off, Sting on the first verse, Paul Simon on the second. The first of approximately three thousand Holy Crap moments of the night. Once I got over the fact that there were these two icons grooving to a cool Sting song right there in front of me, I paused a second to notice how wonderful they sounded. Not just their voices…the band. I could hear each instrument with near-crystalline clarity. They were even properly separated…the keyboards off to the right, the drums and bass near the middle, guitars a bit to the left. The MSG people got it right. This is the best-sounding arena I’ve ever been in. “Brand New Day” led to a raucous “The Boy In The Bubble”, then a lilting “Fields of Gold.” Exquisite musicianship, gorgeous sound…and this whole “I can’t believe what I’m seeing/hearing” sensation that was disorienting. So far, the only negative was Mr. Super-drunk-or-high-or-both with a shaggy little white soul patch who insisted on doing interpretive dances (poorly) throughout the show. This is the guy, and there’s at least one in your seating area at every concert, who turns and air-guitars to his companion, or to the crowd behind him, making ugly scrunchy faces because he’s so, like, awesome and stuff. And then he thrusts his straightened arms in the air like Evita when his “solo” is done. Whatta maroon. Paul Simon opened up a brief dialogue with Sting. He said that as “this experiment” went on, he knew that he and Sting would get to know each other better, become more comfortable around each other…to actually grow closer together, more “like each other.” Simon said by the end of the tour, he hoped to “have the body of Adonis, and be able to have sex for days, uninterrupted.” He then asked, “Sting? How about you?” Sting: “No, I think I’ll stay like this, thanks…” A dejected Simon quietly left the stage. The deep bass line and keyboard lick of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” set off my first seizure. There are “best” songs, and there are “favorite” songs, and then there are songs that simply have become part of your DNA. This is one of those, for me. For the first time of the night, my eyes welled up. It’s a Police song that benefits from having a big back-up band, and they just nailed it. It’s also one of those Police songs (there are more than a few) that has a vocal bit that mandates crowd involvement, that “eee-oh” business on the fade out. We nailed it too. After a delightful “Englishman in New York”, Sting related to us that, as an Englishman born in the “north of England”, he had a desire to write, “naturally”, a country song. He then did “I Hung My Head”, a tune covered by Johnny Cash, which sort of validates the “country” thing. The band roared into a ferocious “Driven To Tears.” A joyous “Love is a Seventh Wave” followed…Paul Simon sneaking onstage between the drumkits. In fact, members from both bands would meander on and off the stage throughout the show, depending on the song. The two superstars then performed “Mother and Child Reunion”, its’ tropical rhythms flowing perfectly from the previous “Wave.” Sting bowed out; Paul Simon’s mini-set started with “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” (oh the fun Mr. Interpretive Dance had with that one…ugh), “Dazzling Blue” (an album cut from his 2011 album, “So Beautiful or So What”), “Graceland”, “Still Crazy After All These Years” and ended with “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard.” Sting returned for a breathtaking duet performance of “Fragile”, Sting’s fretwork front and center, beautifully presented on this new Forum sound system. Paul Simon, during the applause at the end of the song, looked toward us, shaking his head in disbelief, and said…”I love that song…” Sting ordered “Mr. Simon” off the stage, so he could talk to us “in private” about the honor it was performing with this legend. He talked about his first tour of the United States with “the band”, traveling in a beat-up van. Sting performed a tremendous version of “America” in tribute. Holy crap moment #72. He didn’t give us much time to applaud at the end of the song, as he did a quick count-off, and the band exploded into “Message In A Bottle”, done at a speed reminiscent of early-period Police, not late-period Sting. A 62-year-old Sting, by the way. “The Hounds of Winter” (with a soaring, piercing accompaniment from Sting’s back-up female vocalist) and “They Dance Alone” followed. Then it was time for “Roxanne.” Members of Simon’s crew ran over to provide back-up vocals (wailing “Roxanne” to Sting’s “Put on the red light”) with such huge smiles on their faces, you just KNOW they were thinking, “I can’t believe we’re freaking singing ‘Roxanne’ right now…” After a nice “Desert Rose”, Paul Simon came back and together they did “The Boxer”. These are two voices that work incredibly well together, and the packed house, hearing these sweet harmonies, was eerily quiet, actively listening. The hushed reverent silence of the audience was lifted when we were summoned to provide the “Lie-la-lie” part, which we did, happily. Back to the Paul Simon show, where his crack band shook the walls with the zydeco barn-burner, “That Was Your Mother.” They did the elegant “Hearts and Bones”, the title song off a criminally neglected (but personal favorite) album from late 1983. Mr. Simon then gave us a musical history lesson with “Mystery Train” and “Wheels”, shouting out Junior Parker, Chet Atkins and the like. Most impressive was his drummer (one of the guys who scampered out earlier to sing “Roxanne”) who sat behind the kit with his guitar, keeping hi-hat time with one foot, while finger-picking tasty guitar riffs, effortlessly. In a conscious attempt to blow the roof off and into the parking lot, Simon (a 72 year-old Simon, by the way) delivered a wild version of “The Obvious Child”, off his less-commercially-successful Graceland-follow-up, “The Rhythm of The Saints.” Its’ Brazilian polyrhythms were intoxicating, and the stop-start, call-and-response, song-ending drum solos between drummers and percussionists had to be seen (and heard) to be believed. Simon landed a one-two punch with “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al”, which left us dizzy and delirious. And completely unprepared for the encore. The stage was in shadows for a few minutes, and the band made their way back, as they typically do prior to the “encore”. Simon and Sting came out smiling and waving, thanking us profusely. They simultaneously strapped on their respective instruments, and launched into ‘Every Breath You Take’. Holy crap moment #2674. It was as good as you could possibly imagine it being. Over the years, the song’s sinister stalker vibe has somewhat faded; it is now a song that defines an era of pop music. It’s gone from creepy to cathartic. Without stopping for a “breath”, the classic introduction to Simon’s “Late In The Evening” kept us dancing, the entire Forum levitating at least three feet off the ground. Irresistible rhythms; absolutely killer horns. This utter madness went on for a long while, singers, band and audience united in a fierce vibe. They paused to catch their breath. So did we. The stage lights dimmed a bit. Sting moved up to the center microphone, Simon a few steps back, off Sting’s left shoulder. The keyboard player started to play “the” song. Recognized instantly by many with faint, yet enthusiastic applause, we all stopped everything we were doing. No clapping. No moving. No talking. No breathing. When Sting started with, “When you’re weary…feeling small…” I shook, trembled even. I was not even trying to hide the fact that tears were spilling over onto my cheeks. I felt every note, soaking through my skin, vibrating my spine, filling me with awe, with joy, with inspiration… …well that sort of stuff just doesn’t happen every day, does it? Simon chimed in with the next verse, and some transcendent harmonies followed. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is one of the classics in the modern American songbook. They did it proud. As they approached the end of the song, and that final note, Simon moved about like a baseball coach, making hand movements to various players. Sting held that epic note, Simon holding off the musicians from coming back in, letting this stratospheric moment resonate, before bringing them back in to finish, although the band could scarcely be heard over our thunderous appreciation. This was a singular performance that will stick with me forever. The sixteen or so musicians spread across the lip of the stage for a series of bows, and slowly made their way off…the two stars lingering behind. It became clear they had one little surprise left for us. Paul Simon spoke about the Everly Brothers, Phil Everly in particular. The Everly Brothers opened for Simon & Garfunkel on their Reunion tour back in 2003. The two singers gave us a poignant, fitting end to a glorious evening, by serenading us with “When Will I Be Loved.” Great music, great venue…simply one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, and I say that only after serious, careful consideration. Twenty-four hours later, and I still can’t stop thinking about it…
photos