Al Meets The King of Pain: Paul Simon and Sting On Stage Together...
They were an odd couple, standing together on stage in a massive arena. A 62-year-old man whose physique is better than many half his age towered over his collaborator, a somewhat frumpy looking 72-year-old who wore a fedora to mask his "thinning brown hair." While it may have been unexpected for Sting and Paul Simon to join forces for a tour, it's no surprise that this pairing resulted in a fantastic concert. After all, they have over 100 years of music making between them, not to mention the fact that these men composed some of the most enduring songs of the 20th century.
This case of opposites attracting applied to nearly every element of last night's concert at the Verizon Center, the latest stop on the rather unimaginatively named On Stage Together tour. Take, for example, the opening number, where both singers and their two bands played the title track from Sting's 1999 Brand New Day album. Like all of Sting's songs, this one is tightly constructed, with every vocal phrase fitting into the bouncy shuffle rhythms bubbling underneath. That's not how Simon sings. He stretches out the melody, and his songwriting style supports this. But in this case, the contrast proved effective because Simon's delivery added some looseness to the tune. This held true every time the two shared the stage, whether it was on Simon's classic "The Boxer", one of the evening's emotional high points, or while evoking the solemn tone of Sting's "Fragile."
Their differing approaches were also reflected in the way Sting and Simon utilized the fourteen world class musicians that shared the stage. Simon hires multi-instrumentalists, like drummer Jim Oblon, who easily handled the classic groove on "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" and then turned around to play a finger-picked country guitar solo on Chet Atkins' "Wheels." Mark Stewart was especially fun to watch, not only because he sported the finest mutton chop sideburns this side of the Civil War, but also because he seemed to play a different instrument on every tune, including guitar, cello, baritone saxophone and penny whistle. Sting, on the other hand, hires specialists. Peter Tickell's fiddle solo on "Driven to Tears" was nothing short of jaw dropping, while Jo Lawry's voice was a Siren's call in "Hounds of Winter." Vinnie Colaiuta, the consummate drummer's drummer, anchored these flights of fancy.
The entire production was an exercise in classy understatement. There were no fireworks or stage antics, the focus was purely on the music and the road-tested performers. The set was structured such that Simon and Sting performed about half the set together, sharing each other's band members, but there were extended solo segments interspersed. Sting visited The Police's catalog with "Message in a Bottle," "Roxanne," and shared the obligatory "Every Breath You Take" with Simon. He also played solo hits like "Desert Rose" and "Englishman In New York" while also bringing out deeper cuts such as "I Hung My Head" and "They Dance Alone." Simon stuck largely to the hits and got the audience dancing more often than his counterpart with the joyful rhythms of "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me Al."
Perhaps the most touching aspect of the night was the palpable respect that these two gentlemen share for one another. Sting, reputed to have a sizable ego, had no problem taking a back seat to his elder, who he referred to as a "mentor." That's likely one of the reasons I got goosebumps listening to him belt out the closing verse to "Bridge Over Troubled Water" or his tender take on "America." Simon, in turn, paid respect to his forebears by choosing the closing song. "It all started with two singers, two guitars and one microphone," he said before harmonizing with Sting over The Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved."
(c) DCist by Sriram Gopal