No matter how many concerts you’ve attended in your life, few things will rank higher on the memory meter than watching Sting – erudite, chiseled, contemplative Sting – singing Shaggy’s 2000 hit, “It Wasn’t Me” and its indelible chorus, “Picture this we were both butt naked, banging on the bathroom floor.”
But that’s what made Monday’s concert featuring the King of Pain and the King of Shameless such unabashed fun – even the expected songs were coated with surprising appeal because what might seem like a “what the…?” pairing is, in reality, rather awesome.
Then again, maybe the collaboration between Sting and Shaggy – first debuted at the Grammy Awards in January – isn’t so wacky. A significant number of songs from The Police are threaded with the hallmarks of reggae music, so being matched with the authenticity of Mr. Boombastic only enhances what was already lurking.
In April, S&S released the joint album “44/876” – nods to their respective country calling codes – and this stop at the Tabernacle marked only the third date of a month-long U.S. outing. Considering the pedigree of their backing band – longtime Sting players Dominic Miller and Rufus Miller on guitars and John Freese on drums, plus Shaggy’s keyboardist Kevon Webster and wickedly talented backup singers Melissa Musique and Gene Noble – it was hardly shocking that the unit thoroughly slayed during a two-hour-plus set (also, they’ve been on tour in Europe since late June).
Sting and Shaggy shared the stage throughout, trading lyrics on “Englishman in New York” (with “Jamaica” subbed in a few times), marrying Shaggy’s “Oh Carolina” with Sting’s “We’ll Be Together” and resurrecting the “Dream of the Blue Turtles” gem, the already-reggae-fied “Love is the Seventh Wave.”
A delighted, sold-out crowd (which included Atlanta-based super producers Dallas Austin and Tricky Stewart) remained upright for the majority of the show, even nodding along to less familiar new songs including the toe-tapper “To Love and Be Loved” and “Gotta Get My Baby Back,” with its liquid groove and arm-waving pop chorus.
A set list filled with hits was dotted with eight songs from “44/876,” and hearing them breathe live undoubtedly escalated their appeal.
Throughout the show, Sting was in vigorous vocal form, holding long notes and declaring “Ey-yo-oh!” in fine Sting fashion on “Message in a Bottle” and “Walking on the Moon,” sensibly paired with Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up.”
At 66, Sting remains handsome and fit, his fingers dancing down the neck of his bass during “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” and his hips shimmying to the slinky Arabian rhythm during a gorgeously layered “Desert Rose.”
Shaggy, meanwhile, rearranges the molecules of Sting’s vibe in a sweet, playful manner. Before Sting crooned “Fields of Gold,” Shaggy, 49, asked for fans to hold up their lighted cell phones; during “To Love and Be Loved,” he shouted “Reggae people!” while gyrating and playing to the front row; and, most amusingly, during “It Wasn’t Me,” he hopped across the stage thrusting his pelvis toward Sting, who jokingly fled the microphone to clear a path.
For longtime Sting fans, seeing him so loose and in an obvious state of enjoyment – especially during a somewhat silly “Crooked Tree,” which included Shaggy donning a judge’s robes and wig and Sting slipping on the black-and-white-striped shirt of a jailbird – was itself a highlight.
Besides, Sting has tackled pop, jazz, Broadway and lutes, so why not have a little fun with the music of Jamaica? He’s found his perfect muse.
(c) Atlanta Journal & Constitution by Melissa Ruggieri / Photo by Martin Kierszenbaum