The menacing synths, haunting vocals and hypnotic percussion of Peter Gabriel's "The Rhythm of the Heat" started the evening, the singer stationary, cloaked in shadows behind his keyboard. Several minutes later, Sting took the spotlight, bass in hand, for his peppy "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You," a song that could not have been more dissimilar. But after nearly three hours of performing solo and in tandem Saturday at the United Center, any fleeting concerns that a live pairing of Gabriel and the former Gordon Sumner would be more contrast than synergy had long since been put to rest.
Despite the divergent twists and turns of careers that have only occasionally crossed, the two have plenty in common. Both Gabriel and Sting rose to prominence as frontman of iconic bands, both looked well beyond the bounds of Great Britain for musical inspiration, both even share a similar vocal timbre, which worked out well whenever one sang backup for the other. And when in doubt, both knew when to defer to the band, 12 members strong, collectively more than capable of navigating both Gabriel's epic mood pieces as well as Sting's more compact material.
Maybe it was knowing they were in such capable hands (or confident in their own voices, surprisingly strong for a couple of guys in their mid-60s) that made both singers so playful. Sting, often loose and smiling, handled verses of Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" and "Shock the Monkey," and prefaced "Message in a Bottle" with a snippet of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight," a rarely aired relic of Gabriel's Genesis days. Gabriel clearly enjoyed singing Sting's swinging "Englishman in New York," goofed (along with his band) during "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" and rearranged Sting's "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" into a sly lark, possibly revenge for Sting picking "Kiss That Frog" (one of Gabriel's worst songs) to sing before Gabriel and backing singer Jennie Abrahamson led the ever-stirring "Don't Give Up" (one of his best).
At other times Sting and Gabriel were powerfully in sync, never more so than the sequence of "Driven to Tears," Fragile" and "Red Rain." Sting related those songs to the recent spate of senseless killings, and Gabriel later dedicated his beautiful new "Love Can Heal" to murdered British MP Jo Cox, but otherwise these two veterans of Amnesty International's Human Rights Now tour kept the politics relatively subdued, perhaps recognizing the relief that music can provide in times of trouble and turmoil. Watching Sting find fresh energy in "Every Breath You Take" or Gabriel guiding "In Your Eyes" like a beacon of empathy and joy, one suspects even rock stars sometimes find that relief too.
(c) Chicago Tribune by Joshua Klein
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