Paul Simon and Sting: On Stage Together

Denver, CO, US
Pepsi Center
Paul Simon and Sting at Pepsi Center...

When Paul Simon and Sting took the stage together, they were each accompanied by their full bands, which often appeared on the stage with them at the same time throughout the set, working together to create an even more lush and almost orchestral version of songs they performed together. To introduce us to the concept of them both working together in what seemed like perfectly natural synch, the two opened the show with Sting's song "Brand New Day."

Right off the bat, the chemistry between everyone involved was readily apparent, and both Simon and Sting sang with palpable relish. Songs that both men have sung across decades never seemed stale; in fact, they came off lively and even spirited. What was most interesting was the way in which Simon and Sting complemented each other; as singers, their tonal range is similar, but their style differs considerably, and yet it really worked.

Together, their voices together gave an emotional power and heft to already solid songs. This synergy most powerfully manifested, somewhat unexpectedly, in "Fields of Gold," which concluded what could be considered the introduction of the show. With the bands seamlessly working together and the singers harmonizing like lifelong collaborators on a song probably heard most often these days in dentist offices, it seemed so vibrant and vivid. Yet with its original subtle shades of sonic texture, it was almost like a new song.

But the show wasn't all collaborative; over the course of roughly two hours, Simon and Sting each also played individual sets. In his first set without Simon, Sting started things off with "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," a classic from his years with the Police and a real crowd pleaser that inspired a massive sing-a-long from the crowd. At one point, Sting told us that in his career as a musician it was his ambition to write a country song but that there was a problem: that he was English -- and not even from the south of England but the north.

Just same, he noted that Johnny Cash had covered one of his songs and that he would perform that song, "I Hung My Head," in a style akin to country. Following an energetic turn of "Driven To Tears" in which the violin player took a brilliant and frenetic lead part that was played on guitar on the Police original, Simon came back on stage and joined Sting and company for "Love Is The Seventh Wave."

For his own first set without Sting, Simon went right into some fan favorites beginning with "Mother And Child Reunion." Simon's band was obviously very well rehearsed, but it was impressive the intuitive way the group played together, particularly how they could go off script a little and still stay in synch, performing the songs with fluidity and freshness. "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard" got a lot of people dancing, as it should, as did "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" and "Graceland." To close out the solo set, Simon and his band covered "Pretty Thing" by Bo Diddly and put some enthusiasm into it. Afterward, Sting and his band came back on and he and Simon did a stirring duet of Sting's "Fragile."

Then Sting told Paul Simon he should leave the stage so he didn't get embarrassed. When Simon was gone, Sting told us that he was honored to share the stage with someone like Simon, a guy who wrote songs that pretty much anyone could hear and relate strongly to like a story out of your own life. Sting then told us he was going to play a song that reminded him of the first time he came to America in his mid twenties on tour with the Police, which included a stop at Rainbow Music Hall (Sting joked that three people were there, and two of them were roadies). He and the band then performed Simon & Garfunkel's "America."

"Message In A Bottle" got most of the crowd singing along with the chorus, and the song seemed generally imbued with a new life, especially with Sting, clearly in good spirits, performing it like he rediscovered a love of the music from across his career. "The Hounds of Winter" was both dark and striking, as was the majestic "Desert Rose." And, naturally, "Roxanne" elicited some of the most enthusiastic dancing of the whole show.

Simon and Sting performed "The Boxer" together and added layers of vocal subtlety to the song that just made it seem even better than it already was. Simon then took his second solo section of the evening and got things going with an interesting choice of the Zydeco-inflected "That Was Your Mother." Back to back, Simon played an effective cover of a Junior Parker classic, "Mystery Train," and a zestful take on Chet Atkins' "Wheels." He followed this with some heavy hitters from his catalog with "The Obvious Child," a virtually theatrical take on "Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes," and the big hit of the night, "You Can Call Me Al."

Sting came back for the closing act of the show, and the two men sang "Every Breath You Take" together. Some of us have heard that song ad infinitum over the last thirty plus years, but with the two singers bringing out the inherent possibilities of the song, it felt like a reminder that it really is great pop song. The main set closed with "Bridge Over Troubled Water," with Simon and Sting taking turns with the verses and then the two coming together in the end for the iconic song.

Most everyone left stage at the song's conclusion, but the lights didn't come up right away, and both Simon and Sting came back on with acoustic guitars and were accompanied by a Simon's drummer and his electric guitarist. Simon told us it was a song written by his dear friend, the late Phil Everly. The tune ended up being a loving rendition of "When Will I Be Loved." It was a nice personal touch and a great way to end the show.

(c) Denver Westworld by Tom Murphy

Paul Simon and Sting at Pepsi Center...

Crowded could be one way to describe the Pepsi Center on Tuesday as the star-power of Paul Simon and Sting descended on the Denver arena simultaneously. Together on stage with their own bands - for a total of 16 musicians - and solo, Simon and Sting gave fans a three-hour retrospective that focused mainly on solo hits and tracks from the Police and Simon and Garfunkel.

Simon and Sting started the evening playing together, opening with "Brand New Day" and moving into "The Boy in the Bubble." Both suffered a bit in translation, whether it was the altitude or the presence of so many musicians trying to find space, the songs sounded bland. The harmonies on "Bubble" were on the low end, most likely due to age and altitude, and that detracted from the song's punch.

Sting picked the evening up on a soulful "Fields of Gold," then delved into his Police back catalog for "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," performed almost album worthy. Giving a nod to Johnny Cash, Sting performed an upbeat version of "I Hung My Head."

Even coming from two musicians as renowned as Sting and Simon, a few of their cuts from the night fell flat. Sting's version of "Driven to Tears," which had a lot of layered keyboards, lacked the edgy desperation of the original version with the Police. Sting and Simon's version of "The Boxer" felt like viewing a painting from a great distance, as it never drew you into the emotional complexity of the narrator surrendering.

Despite these occasional missteps, the duo fired on all cylinders more often than not, impressive given that the Pepsi Center is only the third date in a 21-city tour. Sting got great laughs from the crowd when introducing Simon's classic "America," talking about his first tour of the U.S. with the Police in a station wagon and playing in small clubs to no people. The crowd roared in approval when Sting said they'd played The Rainbow Hall in Denver on that run, and he retorted, "None of you were there; there were three people there, and two were roadies!" Simon didn't address the crowd so much, except to indicate when he was playing a cover, such as a rave on Bo Diddley's "Pretty Thing."

The large band also seemed to get tighter as the evening went on. Backing singer Jo Lawry tore into a vocal solo on Sting's brilliant "The Hounds of Winter," winding through a multi-octave range and making her voice sound like a wind instrument. After a delay to find his guitar from the multitude of instruments at the side of the stage, Mark Stewart brilliantly backed Simon on a haunting "Hearts and Bones."

Simon ended the set with two songs off his seminal "Graceland," and the three-song encore included the definitive songs from The Police and Simon and Garfunkel, "Every Breath You Take" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." On the latter, Simon and Sting both took turns on Art Garfunkel's soaring vocals, and though neither reached his heights, both found ways to personalize the iconic tune.

(c) Hey Reverb (Denver Post) by Candace Horgan

Sting & Paul Simon...

The Scene: Last Tuesday saw a bill at The Pepsi Center that made Baby Boomers for miles around weak in the knees with excitement as legendary musicians Paul Simon and Sting joined forces for the first time in their illustrious careers.  While the vast arena was largely empty just a few minutes before eight as I made my way to my seat, by the time the show started at a quarter past the hour, there were very few vacant seats.  Instead they were filled with grey haired couples who held hands and closed their eyes as they sang along with Simon's early hits and groups of women in their mid-forties who coo'd at Sting's ripped physique and Reggae inflected melodies.  While it was a tame and mellow evening for most, that didn't stop many in the crowd from standing for more than half the show.

Sting & Paul Simon: At 8:15 sharp the lights went down and the stage filled with a massive group of at least 14 musicians backing Sting and Simon as they ran through Sting's "Brand New Day" to kick off the show together.  As the two artists flashed smiles at each other during the opener, it quickly became clear to those who hadn't read up on the tour in advance that these two artists were more than just "on-tour" together, they were actually collaborating.  Then, when they traded verses on Simon's Graceland classic "Boy In The Bubble," it struck me that their voices fit together very well and when they broke out "Fields of Gold," Simon's phrasing of Sting's lyrics actually improved and reinvented the song.  Though the opening collaborative stanza only lasted three songs, the show was structured to feature the pair on stage several more times throughout the night.

Between the highly anticipated duets between the featured artists, each was given the opportunity to showcase his own band, and his own hits, as the other relaxed backstage for a few minutes.  The first solo set went to Sting and he wasted no time by breaking out a hit everyone had come to hear: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic."  Though not much of a Sting or Police fan, I was immediately impressed by his presence on stage and how well his voice has fared over the years.  While it was clear that Simon has changed some keys and lowered some notes over the years, Sting's voice soared beautifully on tracks like "Englishman in New York," "Message In A Bottle," "Roxanne," and even a cover of the seminal Simon and Garfunkel tune "America" that he performed without Simon's help.  The only time Sting seemed to falter a bit was when the pair tackled "The Boxer" and he struggled a bit with the phrasing and melody early on, but in the end it was largely a forgivable mistake given the rest of his performance throughout the night.

Simon's two brief solo sets were chock full of the hits that have kept him a household name for 50 years.  From the dazzling percussion on "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" and "The Obvious Child" to the lyrical masterpieces that are "Hearts and Bones" and "Graceland" the 72 year old songwriter enchanted his fans with moment after moment of musical genius. A highlight of his portion of the show was a masterful medley of Junior Parker's "Mystery Train" and Chet Atkins' "Wheels" that featured some outstanding guitar playing and singing by Simon's drummer.

While Simon had the honor of closing out the set with two Graceland gems in "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me Al," the pair returned for an encore that featured duets of "Every Breath You Take," "Late in the Evening," and "Bridge Over Troubled Water."  Then, in a surprise to many, they returned for a second encore of The Everly Brother's "When Will I Be Loved" in tribute to the late Phil Everly who so obviously influenced Simon in his early days as a singer-songwriter.

While on paper this pairing of Paul Simon and Sting may have seemed a bit mismatched to many (including myself) in the end it came off very well and a packed Pepsi Center walked out into a mild winter evening feeling very satisfied.

(c) Listen Up Denver by TDwenger
posted by kirsten
Great performance
Fantastic show here in Denver last night. Thanks to all of you!
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