Paul Simon and Sting: On Stage Together

Houston, TX, US
Toyota Center

Paul Simon and Sting at Toyota Center...

Ten years age, a large ocean and about 12 inches of height separated Paul Simon and Sting when the two took the stage at the Toyota Center for the first date of a curious joint tour. If their size seems a petty observation, their respective appearances did reflect their performances in a way. Sting's clingy shirt left him a mask and insignia away from looking like a superhero. Fittingly his band served up dramatic solos meant to highlight individual virtuosity. Simon's drab, unbuttoned button-down gave him the appearance of a man trying to beat the crowd at the oil change place. Simon's group relied more on interactive and understated groove, with players frequently swapping instruments: the drummer on guitar, the guitarist on sax, the bassist on percussion. Yet players from each band - including the two singers - mingled throughout the two-and-a-half hour show, often to intriguing effect.

The question going in was, "Why this pairing?" But frankly, other such tours have been built on stretchier connective tissue. Elton John and Billy Joel: They were connected mostly by an instrument and an era. For Simon and Sting, there's an interesting and ongoing relationship to folk and world music. Simon found his start there before pushing the edges of the form so far as to create a domain of his own. Sting started a sneering British new wave type, the kind that might sneer at the guy who cranked his hurdy gurdy at the Oscars years later. Both dig reggae. Both have incorporated the sounds of Africa into their music. And there was a detectable sense of admiration. When they comingled on stage it made for some fine moments. More often than not they proved that such an odd pairing doesn't necessarily have to work on paper. It need only work in practice.

The show's sluggish opening included the two swapping vocals on two slower Sting songs ("Brand New Day" and "Fields of Gold") with one peppier Simon tune ("Boy in the Bubble"), Sting played a short, fine set, before Simon returned during a nice reggae-tinged transition from Sting's "Love Is the Seventh Wave" into Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion."

The show's best stretch displayed the range of both performers, with energetic bookends for some quieter moments. It started with Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard" and the zydeco-fueled "That Was Your Mother," both spirited. Then they swapped songbooks. Simon sang a lovely version of Sting's "Fragile." And Sting's simple acoustic take on Simon's "America" - prefaced with his recounting the Police's first tour of the U.S., including a date in front of three fans at Houston's Opry House - was a revelation. His raspy voice, clearly foreign, still found its way into the song's darker corners; he spoke admiringly of the song's "foreboding" quality. An Englishman in New Jersey, counting cars: There the purpose of the tour became more evident. The best of the songs each man has written - and I'd argue Simon, with his 10 year head start, has quite a few more - are meant to be passed down this way.

With the drone of feedback the song gave way to "Message in a Bottle," an altogether different song but one also with a foreboding sense. The transition was seamless.

Simon's "Hearts and Bones" was another gentle highlight, followed soon after by some uptempo songs like "Kodachrome," "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" (with a great backing vocal from Sting) and "You Can Call Me Al" to bring the set to a close with some zeal.

They returned for a compulsory "Every Breath You Take" encore, followed by a rousing "Late in the Evening." "The Sound of Silence" seemed like a good vocal opportunity for the two, but instead they went for broke with "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Sting is no Garfunkel (who is?), but he didn't try to be, and his voice lent the song an earthy soulful quality.

"You caught us at the point where we don't have another song," Simon said when they emerged after the encore.

Both strumming acoustic guitars they sang "When Will I Be Loved," a tribute to Simon's friend and hero Phil Everly, who died earlier this year. The song brought home the idea of a song being bigger than its author. Two musicians, separated by 10 years and a large ocean - one an Englishman, the other a Jewish guy from New York - singing an ageless 55 year old song made famous by a couple of kids from Kentucky.

(c) Houston Chronicle by Andrew Dansby

Paul Simon and Sting Merge Voices, Styles in Tour Opener...

Paul Simon and Sting apparently meant it when they decided to title their joint concert tour On Stage Together.

On opening night at Houston's Toyota Center the two veteran headliners spent plenty of time in each other's company, standing side by side for 10 of the two-hour and 45-minute show's 30 numbers - a fairly seamless collaborative endeavor more akin to Billy Joel and Elton John's Face 2 Face programs than the typical joint billing. Moreover, their two bands - a combined 14 musicians -- melded and intertwined throughout the night, adding  richness and nuance to the song arrangements.

The evening - which Simon introduced as "our experiment melding two bands, two styles, two catalogs of songs" - started with a trio of collaborations, Sting and Simon walking on to the buoyant strains of the former's "Brand New Day" before bouncing into Simon's "Boy in the Bubble," trading lead vocals on both. "Fields of Gold," meanwhile, was a duet tailor-made for Simon's gentle timbre. Later on the duo worked their way through a reggae coupling of Sting's "Love is the Seventh Wave" and Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion,"  while duets on Sting's "Fragile" and Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" were effective segues between the individual sets, the latter bolstered by the distinctive grit and husk of Sting's vocals - and earning Simon a kiss on the forehead from his ebullient tourmate.

The encore brought another three-song, full-ensemble combination, including energetic versions of the Police's "Every Breath You Take" and Simon's "Late in the Evening." And Sting brought another variation to Art Garfunkel's definitive parts to the closing "Bridge Over Troubled Water," complementing the majesty of Simon's melody with an assured fan's delivery rather than trying to compete with or reinvent Garfunkel's showpiece.

Sting and Simon's own sets didn't pale next to the collaborations, either. Both wisely offered up plenty of hits, with Sting and company rocking through an extended version of the Police's "Driven to Tears" as well as the band's "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," "Message in a Bottle" and "Roxanne," while "They Dance Alone" and "Desert Rose" were beefed up by the expanded instrumentation from Simon's band members. Sting also offered up his own version of Simon and Garfunkel's "America," explaining that the song reminded him of when he first came to the U.S. with the Police - then chiding the wave of cheering when he mentioned the group's first show in Houston; "Don't say you were there. There were three people there, and two of them were roadies."

Simon, meanwhile, mined his solo catalog during his own sets, and while favorites such as "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard," " You Can Call Me Al" certainly brought the crowd to its feet, deeper tracks like "Dazzling Blue" and "That Was Your Mother" were welcome inclusions. And he also scored with medleys that melded "Hearts and Bones" with Junior Parker's "Mystery Train" and Chet Atkins' "Wheels" and "Kodachrome" with "Gone At Last."

It was an "experiment" that succeeded by any measure on opening night - and will likely keep improving until the tour wraps on March 16 in Orlando.

(c) Billboard by Gary Graff

Sting & Paul Simon at Toyota Center...

If politics makes for strange bedfellows, consider two aging Rock and Roll Hall of Famers trying to figure out what to do next. On paper the idea of Sting and Paul Simon on tour together might seem strange, a random pairing driven by some unknowable desire to prove something to themselves or each other. But the two friends belong to slightly different generations - Sting is 62, Simon 72 - and somewhat different wings of rock and roll's manor house, and have never especially been considered either comrades in arms or rivals. Maybe their wives just told them to get out of the house for a few weeks.

Even Simon himself called this 22-city tour, which kicked off Saturday night to a full house at Toyota Center, an "experiment." It didn't feel that way. When the house lights finally came up some two and a half hours after the show had started, following the brief encore of the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved," it felt like an idea that sympathetic artists of a similar caliber should try more often.

The evening began with both Simon and Sting (and their bands) onstage together, with a few tunes designed to get the toes tapping and the memories flowing: "Brand New Day," "The Boy In the Bubble," "Fields of Gold." Then Simon shuffled off while Sting played a few songs, and eventually came back out while Sting's crew took a breather, and so forth and so on. Dividing the show into these inning-like structures recalled Simon's beloved baseball - although Joltin' Joe and "Mrs Robinson" didn't make the set list - but the give-and-take between the two when they were onstage together was more like a match of English football. Sting especially seemed to enjoy the intertwining grooves of his own bass (which he played most of the evening) and Simon's longtime sideman Bakithi Kumalo.

Everything flowed about as smoothly as it could possibly have, leaving a distinct impression of just how much consideration had been given to each transition, and precious little indication that it was the first night of the tour; a flubbed lyric or two was about it. There were even some moments where the two switched sides, as it were. The tropical breezes of "Love Is the Seventh Wave" kept begging for Simon to come out, until finally he did. He also took the lead vocal on "Fragile," a melancholy tune from Sting's ...Nothing Like the Sun album, accompanied by its author on Spanish-style acoustic guitar.

Sting, for his part, brought the arena to a standstill during a solo acoustic reading of Simon's "America," after explaining how deeply being an Englishman on tour in the States in the late '70s - playing to practically empty rooms like Houston's Opry House - helped him gain a deeper understanding of Simon's 1968 travelogue so full of both promise and uncertainty. You get the feeling there aren't a lot of awkward pauses in these two's conversations, and their chemistry during climactic duets "Late In the Evening" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was so unforced it really was like they had been doing it for years. "The Boxer," another full-on duet, had most of the women around us looking close to tears; probably a few of the men too.

Another easily discernible common thread was how much inspiriation both musicians have drawn from music of climates warmer than Simon's New York City and Sting's even colder Newcastle, which is about as far north as you can go in England before you're in Scotland. Simon wound up doing about half of Graceland, including the wonderful zydeco spotlight "That Was Your Mother," to go with the Caribbean breezes of "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard." Sting of course is an honorary Jamaican from way back, and represented with the Police's "Driven to Tears" and "Roxanne" besides the reggae-jazz stroll of "Englishman In New York."

They're also big fans of American roots music. Sting offered up his version of a country song, "I Hung My Head," which came out as more of a nugget of Stax-y Memphis soul than anything honky-tonk, but wound up getting recorded by Johnny Cash nonetheless. Simon included the Southern gospel tune "Gone at Last" from 1975's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, and even the soul-searching, unforgiving title track from 1983's Hearts and Bones, which wound its way down a rockabilly-beat track to Elvis' "Mystery Train" and Chet Atkins' "Wheels."

Both men left plenty of hits on the table in favor of some pretty deep cuts -- Sting's "The Hounds of Winter" and "They Dance Alone," Simon reaching all the way back to 2011's So Beautiful or So What for the lovely "Dazzling Blue," but also "The Obvious Child" from Graceland's sort-of South American sequel, The Rhythm of the Saints.

This went on from approximately 8:20 to 10:55 p.m. Saturday night. If not every single one, surely you know most of these songs. Look at the set list below and imagine each one being caressed by the musicians almost like a lover, thoroughly savored by both the players and the audience. It was a special evening.

Personal Bias: I must have born about 15-25 years too late, because I was was way into both Simon & Garfunkel and the Police in high school. Clear Brook High School, class of '93; saw Sting's "Ten Summoner's Tales" tour at The Woodlands my senior year.

The Crowd: Seasoned. A little on the pale side. Couples galore.

Overheard In the Crowd: "It's obviously something God created."

Random Notebook Dump: This thing where people run into the aisles near the stage to take selfies... I don't know, man.

(c) Houston Press by Chris Gray

Old rock rules: Sting and Paul Simon show their love for Houston and each other in unlikely tour kickoff concert

Sting and Paul Simon kicked off their 21 city "On Stage Together" tour at the Toyota Center Saturday night with a nearly sold out and definitely 40-years-old plus audience.  Billed as a once in a lifetime collaboration, these longtime icons, who have been neighbors in the same New York apartment building for the last 25 years, first teamed together last year for a charity benefit and received such a warm reception that they started discussing a collaboration.

"I think it's not so much a spirit of competition between us," Sting told Rolling Stone magazine. "It's just raising each other's game to be together. I feel I have to raise my game to be onstage with him."

When I heard about the concert, I Googled the charity performance that made them decide to launch the tour. "Really," I thought? They must have heard something I didn't because their voices did not blend well together and they sounded - as American Idol judge Randy Jackson would say - "pitchy."

 At second glance, the pairing still doesn't make sense musically. People are either Sting fans or Paul Simon fans. It is like mixing two of your favorite but very different foods to end up with a better dish. But hey, I like honey and I like mustard. Honey mustard dressing is pretty tasty. And with warm memories of Elton John and Billy Joel's Face to Face concerts, why not?

Sting and Simon took the stage at 8:15 p.m., well before all of the audience had been seated. With both bands on stage it was pretty crowded.There must have been 35 band members along with three sound mixers. The concert got off to a fast start with duets of Sting's 1999 hit "Brand New Day," followed by Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" from his highly acclaimed Graceland album, and Sting's "Fields of Gold." Their voices were strong and harmonized well, although it was decidedly different for those of us of a certain age who remember the otherworldly vocals of Simon and his former partner Art Garfunkel.

With a quick "see you later," Simon left the stage and Sting expertly rolled out a string of his hits, "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," "I'm an English Man in New York," I Hung My Head" and "Driven to Tears," with breakout performances from Jo Lawry on backup vocals and Peter Tickell on electric violin (he received a standing ovation). Sting ended with "Love is the Seventh Wave."

At 63, not only does Sting sound good, but he is also still quite handsome and performs with joy and a twinkle in his eye. And unlike many performers today, Sting puts his money in sound and musicians rather than gadgets, fireworks and set design (there was no set, only the stage with two screens on either side).

After ending his mini-set with "Love is the Seventh Wave," Simon returned for a rousing duet of "Mother & Child Reunion." With Sting's vocals and bit of re-mixing, it was energetic enough to make the audience stand and sing, and forget that the song is more than 40 years old.

Simon then launched his mini set with "Crazy Love," "Dazzling Blue," an extended and hip sounding version of "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" with outstanding brass performances, "Me and Julio Down By the School Yard," and "That Was Your Mother." Simon's talented and expressive group of musicians includes a washboard player and an accordion player.

Although Simon looks his 72 years, his voice is strong and though his range seems a little narrower, he was much more energetic than in past concerts, dancing and charming the audience. He mentioned that he was at the Toyota Center just last month when he watched the New York Knicks get beat by the Houston Rockets and with that he pulled out a red jersey and waved it around. He mentioned that his wife is from Dallas and said, "Well Dallas is no Houston."

Yep, these older musicians get making the audience feel special. And Houstonians like people who get how special Houston is.

Sting returned and with only Simon on a darkened stage, performed a hauntingly beautiful version of Sting's "Fragile."  Simon left and Sting launched a mini set that includes his interpretation of Simon's "America" with glorious harmony from his backup singers. Sting said that the song reminded him of when he first came to America. He and the audience had a good laugh when he reminisced that his first performance in Houston was at the Opry House.

When the audience claps as if they remember it, he laughs and says "now don't say you were there as there were only three people in the audience."

"Message in a Bottle" had everyone dancing, screaming and singing with yet another standing ovation. After a rousing rendition of "Roxanne," Sting sung the "Boxer" and then yielded the stage to Simon who performed six more of his songs including "Diamonds in his Shoes" and "Kodachrome."

After two hours and 25 minutes and 30 songs, the show concluded with an encore that included Sting and Simon singing "I'll Be Watching You" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," with Sting and Simon alternating verses and then joining together for the final verse. Although Sting did a workmanlike job, it is not his kind of song, even though it seemed to be written in a lower key.

At its conclusion with the deafening roar of the audience, Simon laughed and said "We don't know any more songs," but they still ended with The Everly Brothers, "When Will I Be Loved" - a song that takes a lot of confidence as it rises or falls only through its harmonies - dedicated to late Phil Everly,

You know a concert is good when people don't leave until the end and only then when they are sure the artists won't return for yet another encore.  Sting and Paul Simon left nothing to chance. Their musicians were superb and it was a big production, which Sting is known for orchestrating. I'm not sure their songs together are that memorable, but individually they set the bar high for themselves and each other, which was reflected in the performance.

Those in the audience who were Simon fans became Sting fans and vice versa. As I left I heard people discussing where they could catch one of the 20 remaining concerts.

(c) Houston Culturemap by Jane Howze

Sting and Paul Simon kick off their On Stage Together Tour in Houston...

On Saturday, February 8, Sting and Paul Simon kicked off their two month On Stage Together Tour at Houston's Toyota Center. With no opening act, the duo appeared on stage at 8:15 to a much anticipated sold out venue and performed a whopping 34 songs. They stood side by side for at least 10 of their songs

and seamlessly alternated performing solo on stage, accompanied with 14 musicians. Their musical styles melded beautifully as Sting and Simon traded off on lead vocals and worked themselves through a mix of crowd favorites. In contrast, their outward looks couldn't have been more different. Sting's strong tall frame and clingy navy shirt was a start contrast to Simon's short frame and unbuttoned, relaxed attire. Unfortunately, our photo ops were only permitted prior to Sting relieving himself of his jacket.

Neither Sting nor Simon's own private sets outshone the other and each offered a different spin or version of the other's song. It was truly unique in the sense

that what each added to the other's song only made it that much better from the original. Opening night was a great success and will likely keep getting better and improving as the tour continues.

The Encore was amazing and brought the two veteran headliners together to perform Sting's 'Every Breath you Take,' Simon's 'Late in the Evening,' and an incredible rendition of Bridge of Troubled Water.

Their memorable concert ended with Sting kissing Simon on the forehead... amazing!

(c) Examiner by Suzanne Cordeiro