Musical odd couples don't come much stranger than Sting and Shaggy. Last night, at the Roundhouse, that didn't stop the rock star playing yin to the reggae man's yang. Their contrasting styles and personalities blended together in an evening that reached its climax in a barnstorming fusion of "Roxanne" and "Boombastic".
The unlikely partnership dates from 2017 when Sting was invited to sing on Shaggy's "Don't Make Me Wait". During the recording process, the two became genuinely good friends. Soon they hit on the idea of recording an entire album together. The result was 44/876, an LP critics wanted to snigger at but couldn't help enjoying.
The evening started with a couple of tracks from the recent album. The title track led on to the sunsplash-tinged vibes of "Morning is Coming". It set the tone for the evening. Shaggy (50) was the showman dressed in a flowing white shirt, hat and shades. He roamed and gyrated freely around the stage while Sting (67), looking remarkably buff in his t-shirt, stayed rooted to the spot. His bass guitar became the musical anchor.
Soon they started to tackle their back catalogues. Many of Shaggy's classics gave Sting a clear role to play. On the ragga classic "Angel", for instance, he gave a sweet rendition of Rayvon's tenor vocal part. The Sting songs worked a little differently. Shaggy would start by finishing Sting's sentences and then worked his way up to entire verses. On "Englishman in New York" he riffed about being a Jamaican in NYC with "a big spiff in his hand". He turned out to be a better singer than you might imagine.
Of course, the whole thing was pure silliness, but that didn't stop it feeling warm and joyous. The musicians – drawn from each artist's regular band – were tight as a drum. For the first half of the concert, they raced through hits like "Oh Carolina" and "Message in a Bottle" while barely pausing for breath. It was when the duo started to relax and chat to the audience that things really started to cook. On "Crooked Tree" they hammed it up in costumes to play out a court scene. Another highlight was "So Lonely"/"Strength of a Woman", where Shaggy exercised some of his iconic priapic banter.
His antics raised the roof, particularly impressive given the demographic. Many in the crowd were over 40 and most looked well-heeled. Celebs were in attendance too, including Sadiq Khan, Charles Dance and Bob Geldof. The only time the audience seemed nonplussed was when Shaggy brought Alexander Stewart, a 19-year-old YouTube star whom no-one seemed to have heard of, onto the stage.
There were no such problems with the evening's finale. The band delivered exhilarating renditions of “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “Every Breath You Take”, as rip-roaring as they were nostalgic. "It Wasn't Me" – Shaggy's cheeky hit from the millennium – didn't quite end the evening, but it certainly summed it up: wilfully uncool and yet irrepressibly good fun.
(c) The Arts Desk by Russ Coffey / Photo by D&W Sting.com