Paul Simon and Sting: On Stage Together

Vancouver, BC, CA
Rogers Arena
Paul Simon And Sting take a journey to Graceland...

"I just have one question," Paul Simon asks the name to his left. " Is that a muscle suit?" The audience laughs.

"Perhaps you can wear it after," replies Gordon Sumner, aka Sting, with a smirk.

Legends. That is the only word that can be used to describe those two men, who performed together at Rogers Arena on February 20th. With their combined careers spanning nearly 80 years, it's no wonder they got an instant standing ovation, but for Sting and Paul Simon it was just another day.

Coming together for the first time in their remarkable journeys, the two elder statesmen each took their turn in the limelight, playing two sets each, with some duets in between. The number of musicians on stage was reminiscent of The E Street Band or Lyle Lovett's Large Band, but was in fact simply a merging of Simon and Sting's respective backers and numbered 14 in total. The instruments were as varied as Paul Simon's repertoire with three drums, several guitars, mandolin, fiddle, accordion, a French horn, two different types of saxophones, piano, bass, piccolo, flute, cello and backing vocalists. Combined with the vocal talents of Simon and Sumner, the result was a two-hour and forty minute epic clash of musical titans and featured some of the greatest hits of the last fifty years.

I have distinct memories of Paul Simon growing up. There was always music playing in the household and Paul Simon's Greatest Hits seemed to be one of the more popular choices. One of my most vivid images of my childhood is that of my mother belting out the chorus to "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" wherever that song happened to be playing. On Thursday night, I got to hear it live. It was still crazy (and great) after all these years. It wasn't the only highlight for me; there were many. Sting fans got there fill as well.

Early on his set, Sting - who played first - played both "Everything You Know is Magic" and "Roxanne" and the epicness of the whole night was shifted into overdrive. Sting, who is roughly a decade younger than Simon, has a little more power and oomph in his voice, but Paulie still has chops and quite the range, and in my opinion is the better out of the two.

There were other great moments, such as ending one number in four-part a capella harmony, another having duelling drum solos. The biggest applause however may have been when Simon referenced the Women's Hockey Team beating the United States in the Gold Medal Match.  Given that they were in the literal home of the Canucks that got a long lasting ovation. There was the humour too. As well as the aforementioned "muscle suit" jibe, Sting said the following "being an Englishman one of my fantasies is to write a country song", which he did and did well.

While each of their two sets were amazing, the encore brought the night to a sublime and almost metaphysical level. After remarking to myself that the two leads needed more duets, they proceed to do a stirring, stunning and bravura version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" that gave everyone in the audience chills. That was immediately followed with what is perhaps Sting's most well known song "I'll Be Watching You". As if that wasn't enough, they ended with a cover song that was a tribute to one of Paul Simon's musical heroes - the recently deceased Phil Everly. It may have been the classiest thing I have ever seen.

Sting and particularly Paul Simon (who kind of looks like Mel Brooks) are definitely men of a certain age. But they will undoubtedly live on as men of the ages. Their almost three hour performance was a musical and spiritual awakening. It was unlike I anything I have experienced or am likely to experience again. It was a visit to "Graceland".

(c) Vancouver Observer by Dan McPeake

Paul Simon and Sting find the love in Vancouver...

Between the two of them, pop legends Paul Simon (72) and Sting (62) have recording careers that span over 90 years. And when you consider how hugely popular the two have been, both as solo artists and with the acts that first brought them fame - Simon & Garfunkel and the Police, respectively - that adds up to a shipload of songs to choose from for a coheadlining show like the one at Rogers Arena last night. The fact that the near-capacity crowd was willing to pay upwards of $250 for prime seats to hear those dusty tunes is testament to how timeless they are.

Of course, pop songs don't get much more enduring than "Bridge Over Troubled Water", the 1970 Simon & Garfunkel hit that would be used to kick off the show's four-song encore.

When Simon and Sting took the stage with a 13-piece backing band and opened with the bouncy "Brand New Day", the title track of Sting's 1999 solo album, the two stars looked genuinely happy and relaxed. The song ended with the plea to "Stand up!", so a bunch of people did, many staying on their feet when it was followed by "The Boy in the Bubble", one of four songs in the set taken from Simon's much-loved '86 album, Graceland.

After Sting's pretty 1993 solo hit, "Fields of Gold", the frontmen addressed the crowd for the first time. "Congratulations, great victory," Simon said, acknowledging our Canadian women's hockey team's nailbiting gold-metal win at the Olympics hours earlier. He was already the most popular guy in the house, but that didn't hurt his standing much.

After some good-natured teasing from Sting, Simon left the stage and the Police-man did "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic", which got the little old lady beside me - 75 if a day - cheerfully bopping her head to that 1981 Police ditty. She seemed pretty fond of the next track, the '87 Sting single "Englishman in New York", as well.

"Being an Englishman, one of my fantasies was to write a county song," explained Sting before performing the so-so "I Hung My Head", a song off his 1996 Mercury Falling album that was also one of the last tunes Johnny Cash ever recorded. I haven't heard Cash's version, but I'm betting its a helluva lot more country than Sting's.

Although there were very few low points in the two-and-half-hour Simon/Sting show, that might have been the lowest, just slightly above Sting's performance of "Walking on the Moon", one of the Police's weaker hits from the late '70s. Would it have killed him to kick out one or two jams and gone back to the first album's "Next to You" or "So Lonely"? Either one would have no doubt gotten the granny on my left feeling 50 years younger.

Things picked up a bit when Simon returned for his uplifting 1972 single "Mother and Child Reunion", then Sting exited and Simon carried on with his biggest solo hit, 1975's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover". During that percolating pop gem the stellar musicianship of the players was particularly evident, though it never wavered once. All told the lineup included three guitarists, two keyboardists, two drummers, a bassist, percussionist, horn players, and a backing vocalist. Whatever instrument was required for a particular tune - be it fiddle, french horn, or washboard - was handled with supreme skill.

I'm pretty sure those were some of the finest musicians I've ever seen on stage, and they all came together magically on the worldbeat-tinged "Graceland", which was propelled by the throbbing bass of Bakithi Kumalo. The simmering vibe of that song always makes me think of J.J. Cale, and I like thinking of J.J Cale.

After a couple of '70s Simon gems ("Still Crazy After All These Years", "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard"), Sting returned to redeem himself for "I Hung My Head" with the gorgeous "Fragile", on which he picked some sweet Spanish guitar. "What a great honour it is to sing on that song," raved Simon afterward. "It's just such a great song."

Then Simon left again and Sting did five songs on his own, including the Police standouts "Message In a Bottle" and "Roxanne". I know the guy can be a bit much with his ego and his muscle shirts and his tales of seven-hour tantric sex sessions, but you've got to give him credit for keeping his voice - among other things - in shape. I mean, I was in this same building six months ago when Ozzy Osbourne was testing the outer limits of what metalheads can stomach in the way of singing.

After a few more numbers, including Simon's throwaway hit "You Can Call Me Al" and Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" (with its plaintive "lie-la-lie" refrain), the show headed to a close with the encore of "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Every Step You Take", and "Late in the Evening". Then for good measure - and in recognition of last month's passing of Phil Everly - they ended things with the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved".

Let's see: Paul Simon would have been 19 when that song hit the charts in the summer of 1960. Yup, sounds like perfect timing to me.

(c) by Steve Newton

Paul Simon and Sting prove they're aging with grace in Vancouver show - Dynamic duo were seamless and slick at Rogers Arena...
Ten years apart in age and a world apart in importance. Paul Simon and Sting make interesting tour mates.

The two are good friends and that's what sees them out for 18 dates of the On Stage Together tour.

Last night at Rogers Arena was night number seven of the tour, and backed by a 14-piece band the show was seamless and slick. From the opening notes of 'Brand New Day', the title track to Sting's 1996 solo album of the same name, the way the two intended to merge the material was made clear.

Two bands and two distinct singers - plus the benefit of Sting playing bass - would turn everything into a world music-tinged orchestra where Sting, 63, and Simon, 73, could trade verses as well as do solo sets with their own bands plus extras.

They both sounded great. No surprise there really.

What mattered was that Sting seemed to be enjoying himself for the first time in a long while. Based on his pompous orchestral hits tour, and the lute album that we won't talk about, the guy has been in a rut as deep as his ego is reportedly large.

Performing familiar faves such as 'An Englishman In New York' and less immediate Police tunes ('Driven To Tears'), his set was pretty much exactly what the fans ordered.

The singer's smile seemed genuine. Particularly when he got to play Garfunkel to Simon. Who wouldn't?

The man may appear onstage like a total schlub, but all you have to do to appreciate Simon's genius is listen to him change his phrasing on 'Mother and Child Reunion', to completely change the emotion of the lyric, or funk out '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover' with a New Orleans second line brass band riff. And a song as new as 'Dazzling Blue' from 2011's 'So Beautiful or So What' proves he still has the songwriting chops.

Plus, a voice that is still awesome.

And if Sting needed an example of how to write a country song, all he needed to do was listen to 'Graceland'. He need never perform that tedious 'Hung My Head' again.

Simon can keep singing 'Still Crazy After All These Years' as long as he wants. He remains one of the most iconic writers of the last 50 years.

If he needs to go on tour with a second to be able to do arenas, there you go. With any luck some aspiring young musicians catch him and get a master class in songwriting.

(c) Vancouver Sun by Stuart Derdeyn

Sting and Paul Simon serenade Vancouver...

You've seen The Godfather Part II, right?

So you're aware that the Robert De Niro half of the movie, documenting the rise to power of Vito Corleone, is clearly superior than the Al Pacino half showing the moral collapse of his son Michael. It's not that Pacino does a bad job. Just that Vito's story is intrinsically more dramatic and interesting.

Such is life for Sting on his current tour, co-headlining a double bill with Paul Simon, which stopped at a full Rogers Arena in Vancouver last night.

Appearing on stage side by side at the show's opening, the initial offerings of Sting's "Brand New Day," Simon's "Boy in the Bubble" and Sting's sombre "Fields of Barley" suggested that the evening would drift into a musical backslapping session, a worry heightened by Simon's explanation that the tour was an experiment in merging bands and repertoires.

"By the end of this tour I'll look like an Adonis and be able to have sex for days on end," he suggested, gazing upwards in awe of Sting's robust physical condition and reputation as bedroom gymnast.

During those opening numbers Sting was taking the lead, his practiced stage manner willing the crowd to its feet, contrasting with Simon's clipped versions of his own melodies and visible agitation when a cry of "We love you Paul" from the crowd interrupted his train of thought.

In the company of a musical giant, Sting had brought his A-game, taking centre stage with his band and wheeling out hits like "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "Englishman in New York" and a jazzy "Walking On The Moon."

Simon returned and upped the ante with classics like "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover," "Graceland" and a version of "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" that didn't quite skip along but still had the hooks to get the entire arena up and dancing.

Enjoying the opportunity to dig into each other's songbooks, Simon chose energy vortex "How Fragile We Are" while Sting returned the favour with a minimal acoustic "America."

Things continued looking rosy after a feisty "Message In A Bottle," but took a turn for the tepid as Sting fell into his soft rock comfort zone, lulling the crowd back into their seats with leaden tracks like "They Dance Alone," a "Roxanne" that plodded when it should have fizzed, and a lengthy "Desert Rose" that was instantly overshadowed when Paul Simon strolled back into the spotlight finger picking the introduction to "The Boxer."

"I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises," sang Simon, 46 years after writing them, popping the crowd into his pocket purely through the power of his craft.

The hits kept coming, with a generous portion of them from the masterful "Graceland" album, including dance floor fillers "Diamonds on the Soles or her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me Al," the latter punctuated by a perfect bass run that warranted a hug of thanks from the diminutive star. Smart enough to know the notes to avoid and sounding terrific for it, Simon was soaking up the adulation from the crowd, who were basking in the presence of some truly majestic songs.

"How much love can one man take?" he beamed.

To Sting's credit, he never tried to steal the thunder back, and he filled his Garfunkeling role to perfection with a fine rendition of the opening verse of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," before strapping his bass back on for a theatrical version of The Police's "Every Breath You Take."

With the stage emptied of the enormous band, the two stars returned one final time armed only with acoustic guitars for a tribute to Simon's "musical idol," Phil Everly, "When Will I Be Loved" that saw Sting deliver his best harmonies of the entire night. Short, raw and honest, not every note from Paul Simon was perfect, but they all came straight from the heart.

The Godfather Part II is a solid movie from beginning to end. It's just that one of its two stars shines brighter. That's what happens when you share the spotlight with one of the all-time greats.

(c) CTV News by Robert Collins