It was a fairly easy transition to make.
Almost like going from one excellent Calgary Folk Music Festival workshop on Prince’s Island to another, perhaps larger, and more star-studded one over the bridge and a several blocks down the street.
In fact, it was exactly like that. And quite honestly one of the most memorable and magical four-hour runs of live music that one could ever hope to experience.
First, the folk fest. Late in the afternoon it featured one of finest and most collaborative sidestage combos of Saturday or any other day, featuring Nashivilleian Bobby Bare Jr., Calgary band The Dudes, Irish artist Foy Vance and Canrock vet Bry Webb.
Strangers from strange lands when they took the stage, they were so open, so delighted with the opportunity to share and interact with musicians who got it, who got them, that it was impossible not to actually see the bond forming in real time, to feel that feeling you get when you know you are witnessing something that no one else would ever see or hear again.
But that was a mere warmup for what was to come if and when you took that jaunt a little south-east of the site.
It was a little more orchestrated, a whole lot more structured, the musicians a great deal more well known and unlike at that earlier workshop where covers included Slade’s Cum On Feel the Noize, every cover here was of their own doing.
More specifically, it was of the doing of the two nice British men at the centre of the Rock, Paper, Scissors Tour, which rolled into the Saddledome on Saturday for the penultimate night of the North American run.
Those two were, of course, giants Peter Gabriel and Sting, whose careers stretch back into the ’70s and, in Gabriel’s case further, whose contributions to the contemporary rock catalogue are extensive, impressive and almost immeasurable be they on their own or with their other projects Genesis, in the case of the former, and The Police, when speaking of the latter.
And most of them — and all of that talent — was on display during this night of what was perhaps the most spectacularly curated and immediately recognizable setlists you could ever hope to hear outside of, say, a show by The Who, Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney.
The show, itself, was also wonderfully conceived and executed on every level.
It kicked off with a bang — or, rather, a monster display of percussion as Gabriel came onstage and performed an arresting version of Rhythm of the Heat, the opening track from his fourth eponymous solo release (Security for us colonists across the pond).
He did so with a massive, phenomenally talented super-sized backup band featuring his own expert players and those of his mate, Mr. Gordon Sumner.
That man ambled on almost inconspicuously with his battered-up bass as the last beat was dropped and launched into one of his own, If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, which wasn’t quite as powerful, due in part to the poppier tone, but mainly to the noticeable dip in vocal audibility and clarity that made you wonder if he’d insulted the sound man prior to taking the stage.
It was, thankfully, only a temporary glitch, and over the night both men and their music were given the proper platform — technically, visually, artistically — they truly deserve.
They took centre stage after their initial musical introductions and gave a quick run down of how the tour was conceived, how the evening would go, the two legends, Gabriel 66, Sting 64, showing an obvious fondness and genuine respect for one another as the elder, in soft, obviously okayed jab, dubbed the pair the “tantric twins.”
And the rest of the two-and-a-half-hours went exactly as explained, but so much more beautifully than they could have conceived or any of the 12,500 fans in attendance could ever have expected or hoped.
It was a communal effort, each artist playing the songs from his past, backed by the blended band of a dozen, often accompanied by his co-headliner in voice and instrument.
Take Gabriel’s next entry No Self Control, which featured Sting adding spine-caressing backing vocals, and then taking a verse on early highlight Games Without Frontiers; Gabriel returning his pipes in kind on The Police classic Invisible Sun.
They also took turns covering one another, Sting singing Shock the Monkey, if not necessarily as intense or as strong were it coming from the man who penned it, while Gabriel fared much better, offering a soulful, smoky take on If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.
Thankfully, they stayed away from each other’s more personal and trademark tunes, Sting silent for the soul-lifting Solsbury Hill — which had the crowd on its feet, dancing, clapping and filling in the “Boom, boom, booms” as directed — and Gabriel putting the breaks on for the red light of Roxanne.
The rest of the evening, was pretty much tit for tat, or hit for that (other hit), with the duo and bands offering up most of the hits those in attendance wanted to hear, whomever they came to see, such as Gabriel’s Red Rain, Big Time, In Your Eyes and Don’t Give Up — backup singer Jennie Abrahamson filling in quite lovely for Kate Bush on the duet — with Sting bringing to the party Message in a Bottle, Englishman in New York, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic and If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.
And both men sounded incredible on those tunes, their voices still as strong, recognizable and affecting as the first time you can recall ever hearing them, connecting with them for life.
It should be noted, the one unfamiliar song of the evening came from Gabriel, who debuted a touching, naked new ballad Love Can Heal, which he dedicated to British politician Jo Cox, who was murdered last month during the Brexit debates. It was a moving moment, one which most of the audience showed the proper respect and patience for, save for one or two chuckleheads yelling out as the songwriter explained it.
And that band that backed them up, it should not be lost in the mention of the two main artists, their songs, and they’re own musicianship, how incredible that crew is — from Peter Tickell’s violin on Driven to Tears to the incomparable drummer Vinnie Colaiuta master-bashing an introduction before Sting got equally as tender on The Hounds of Winter, it was a stellar display of musicianship.
No, it wasn’t a true workshop, with those players having rehearsed things, spent the past month on the road to work out any hiccups, a dramatic but not overwhelming light and visual show choreographed to match everything taking place onstage leaving little room for any improv — not to mention the men behind the material, having spent decades honing them, polishing them, ensuring that the older they got, they never lost that flicker of life they initially had.
But at its very heart it was what a folk festival workshop is all about — live music being a community, one that welcomes you in and makes you part of it if you’re only willing to hear it, open up to it and lend your energy to it.
It was an incredible night and incredible day to be a part of that community.
(c) Calgary Herald by Mike Bell