Sting and Shaggy tour in Phoenix: Every little thing they did was magic...
Based entirely on anecdotal evidence, the most common reaction to news that Sting and Shaggy were collaborating on an album then touring clubs and theaters was either "Why?" or something slightly more dismissive.
Having seen them work their magic on a packed house Sunday night at The Van Buren, it makes way more sense in practice than it does on paper.
First of all, the chemistry between the two was undeniable, with Shaggy's charismatic effervescence the perfect onstage counterpoint to Sting's more casual approach to audience engagement.
There was so much joy in their performance, whether trading vocals on each other's hits or sharing highlights of “44/876,” a collaboration named for their respective calling codes in England and Jamaica.
You could see how much Sting enjoyed the more extroverted brand of showmanship his friend Mr. Boombastic exuded from the time they hit the stage. Sting's enjoyment of that showmanship was often as contagious as the showmanship itself.
And that's not even counting Shaggy's hat, which was amazing.
Even a moment that makes as little sense on paper as a mash-up of "Roxanne" and "Boombastic" somehow worked in concert, if primarily due to how much fun you could tell they had mashing them up.
It didn't hurt that they were backed by a stellar assortment of musicians assembled by pooling their resources.
Longtime Sting associates Dominic Miller (guitar), Rufus Miller (guitar) and Josh Freese (drums) were joined by Shaggy's keyboard player Kevon Webster and backup singers Melissa Musique and Gene Noble (whose soulful falsetto was put to brilliant use on a medley of Shaggy's "Oh Carolina" and Sting's "We'll Be Together."
Sting's admiration for Jamaican culture has been obvious from the time the Police hit the streets at the height of the New Wave era with the reggae-saturated pop hooks of "Outlandos d'Amour," from which they pulled "So Lonely" and "Roxanne."
He sings about it on the title track to the Island-flavored "44/876."
"I hear reggae music, it carries me away," he sings. "And the ghost of Bob Marley, that haunts me to this day / There's a spiritual truth in the words of his song / And the Caribbean nation to which they belong."
They even slipped the Wailers' "Get Up, Stand Up" into Sunday's set, as a medley with a track from the Police's second album, "Walking on the Moon."
They made their way through six Police songs by the time the night was through, from a near-euphoric "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" to "Message in a Bottle" and the encore-closing "Every Breath You Take."
The show opened with "Englishman in New York," Shaggy changing the lyric to "Jamaican in New York" when he took over. It was one of several highlights pulled from Sting's career, including "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" and "Fields of Gold."
And Shaggy touched off several of the night's most animated singalongs, from "Boombastic" to "Angel" and a wildly entertaining version of "It Wasn't Me."
They also made their way through more than half the songs on "44/876." And as good as they sound on the album, most tracks definitely benefited from the live experience, from the lilting grooves of “Morning is Coming” to the gospel-flavored “Waiting for the Break of Day.”
They even dressed up “Crooked Tree” with a bit of theater, Shaggy in a judges’ robe sentencing Sting to don a black-and-white-striped prison jersey. It was as goofy as that reads and twice as entertaining.
When they came back for a second encore, Shaggy thanked the crowd for showing up and apologized for having to reschedule the date due to Sting being sick, cracking the audience up with a truly hilarious imitation of an ailing Sting insisting the show could go on despite the frog in his throat.
Then Sting stepped to mic to introduce the first song of that second encore, an understated rendition of Harry Belafonte's "Jamaica Farewell," with a childhood memory of his introduction to Jamaican culture.
"The first Jamaican I ever met lived in my street," he said. "And he taught me a song. And I've never forgotten this song."
The concert ended with a gorgeous reading of the Sting song "Fragile," which he prefaced with a heartfelt dedication.
"This song has a different meaning every night when I sing it," he began. "And after what happened in Pittsburgh yesterday, it's pretty obvious what this song is about."
And with that, they signed off with a chilling reminder that the world outside the walls of the Van Buren doesn't always take its cues from how much reggae music "shakes me to my soul," as Sting sings on the title track to that new album, "with a positive vibration."
(c) The Arizona Republic by Ed Masley