It's one thing for two longtime stars to share a double bill that pools their audiences and lets them play larger places. It's another to do what Paul Simon and Sting are doing on their arena tour together: actually to team up for about one-third of the concert, sharing songs and mingling the 14 backup musicians from their bands, displaying mutual respect without undue deference. (The tour has two T-shirts: one that reads "Paul Simon & Sting on Stage Together," the other vice versa.)
On Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, where the tour returns on Thursday, the pairing loosened up two ambitious songwriters whose perfectionism has earned them long careers, shaking up their neat routines. As they rotated on and offstage, singing together between minisets with their own bands, they revealed both their kinship and their differences. And now and then, they played comedy team.
Mr. Simon declared, "I love that song," after they performed Sting's "Fragile" together, trading verses and harmonizing. "I wish I wrote it."
"You haven't written enough?" Sting countered.
"No, I haven't," Mr. Simon said. "Thank you for asking."
Sting went on to describe Mr. Simon as his "teacher and mentor," adding, "If you wanted to become a literate and literary songwriter, there is the template," and he sang Mr. Simon's "America" on his own.
Both Sting and Mr. Simon fight melancholy with catchiness, a strategy set out by the song they started with, Sting's "Brand New Day," which bemoans the memory of heartbreak before an optimistic chorus pushes the angst away. Pain heading for redemption, or at least relief, was the trajectory of hits like Mr. Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" and "You Can Call Me Al" and Sting's "Message in a Bottle" and "Every Breath You Take." When the two songwriters steered away from their hits, it was for songs that looked toward loss and loneliness: Sting's inconsolable "The Hounds of Winter" and Mr. Simon's "Hearts and Bones," which segued into what he called his favorite song, Junior Parker's eerie rockabilly classic, "Mystery Train."
Both Sting and Mr. Simon slip musicianly intricacies into their songs, like the tricky 9/8 meter of Sting's tale of accidental murder, "I Hung My Head," or labyrinthine chord progression of Mr. Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years," or the filigreed guitars of "Dazzling Blue" from Mr. Simon's 2011 album "So Beautiful or So What," the newest song in a set full of oldies.
Both songwriters have also dipped frequently into jazz and world music. By the end of the concert, the songs had traversed Brazil (Mr. Simon's "The Obvious Child"), Chile (Sting's "They Dance Alone"), South Africa (Mr. Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"), Algeria (Sting's "Desert Rose") and Jamaica (reggae-rooted songs from both men), as well as Louisiana Cajun country for the zydeco of Mr. Simon's "That Was Your Mother" (though he failed to note that Tuesday was Mardi Gras).
Yet the two songwriters came from separate generations. Mr. Simon, who is 72, emerged from doo-wop and the folk revival, and Sting, 62, from the Beatles and new wave. Mr. Simon is a bookish figure who long ago discovered the joys of rhythm, while Sting is a rocker who often looks inward. Mr. Simon rollicks; Sting can rock out. Sting has also, at times, tried to address larger social issues directly, in songs like "Driven to Tears" and "They Dance Alone." Mr. Simon's songs glance at them - particularly songs from "Graceland," the album that the set kept returning to - but he long ago decided that message songs were not where his talents lie.
When they took verses on each others' songs, Sting and Mr. Simon approached the melodies on their own terms, with Mr. Simon taking improvisational curlicues and Sting willing to apply his lung power to songs that rewarded it, like "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Their harmonies were a little ragged instead of maintaining singer-and-sideman precision; both have been bandleaders on their own for decades. They were friendly allies, not a merger - and, onstage, all the merrier for it.
Mr. Simon said that as the tour continued and they blended more, "I will be more Adonis-like in appearance and be able to have sex for days on end." Then he suggested, or warned, that Sting might change as well.
"I don't think so," Sting said.
(c) New York Times by Jon Pareles
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