At first glance, the Paul Simon and Sting On Stage Together tour is reminiscent of those bizarrely unlikely 1960s package tours where Jimi Hendrix would appear on the same bill as Engelbert Humperdinck. Paul Simon is a Greenwich Village folkie whose towering songbook stretches from Simon and Garfunkel to world-music experiments with Graceland; his Geordie counterpart a former Police-man who has careered from new wave to a lute. Together, the gangly, hipster-bearded Sting and shorter, hat-wearing New Jerseyan could audition for The Odd Couple. And yet, when 73-year-old Simon walks over to 63-year-old Sting during the first number, it’s clear that they have something of a mutual appreciation society, and aren’t as far apart as they seem.
Simon, of course, was using Jamaican grooves long before Sting’s Police played what became dubbed “white reggae”, and the pair’s sublime skank through Simon’s Mother and Child Reunion provides an early highlight. Their voices - Sting’s husky, Simon’s pointed and poised - complement each other as well as their differing banter. The bass-playing Sting quotes Oscar Wilde on foxhunting despite noting the time one of the creatures visited his chickens and “ate every last fucking one of ’em”. Simon remembers playing a nearby working men’s club and being introduced: “You’ve had the bingo. Now shut up and give the artist a go.”
There’s no bingo, but the 37-song setlist starts to resemble a mythical Sting/Simon superfan’s fantasy selection - an Every Breath You Take here, a Mrs Robinson there - and the pair’s solo sections reinvent their classics. Sting’s So Lonely and Roxanne gain tuba solos, while the 16-piece band take Simon classics such as 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and Graceland’s You Can Call Me Al and throw a celebratory, funky party. The dips into each other’s songbooks find Sting delivering a sincere and reverential America, while Simon spits Fragile’s lyric about the futility of violence with crackling venom.
There will always be lulls in a three-hour marathon, but there are moments of humbling magic. Simon’s Homeward Bound, written in nearby Widnes and pulled out “because I don’t know when I’ll see you again”, leaves barely a dry eye in the house. Sting, way out of his comfort zone, really has to push his voice for Bridge Over Troubled Water’s show-stopping duet. A triumphant finale of the Everly Brothers’ When Will I Be Loved suggests that this kind of curious but inspired union really should happen more often.
(c) The Guardian by Dave Simpson