Two Englishmen in Chicago hit the United Center like a Sledgehammer...
They may be both in their mid-60’s but Sting (still svelte, muscular and ever so handsome) and Peter Gabriel (much wiser but looking more his age) still have that youthful schoolboy humor, especially when it comes to partnering up on the road for the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” tour which came to Chicago’s sold-out United Center. After two songs into their set with both men arm-in-arm addressing the audience, Peter Gabriel joked that Sting encouraged him to take up yoga and miraculously, after only three lessons, you could hardly tell them apart. With a friendship spanning several decades, they made it clear that the show was all about working together to take a look back through an incredibly deep catalog of sophisticated, eclectic music. All 14 members of their respective bands shared the stage and were categorized into two teams; team “Red” for Gabriel and team “Blue” for Sting. The sole purpose of the labeling was to give the audience an easy way to decide who the better band was. It’s nice to see that after all these years they still haven’t really grown up. What’s also nice to see is when two of the most brilliant solo artists in rock history reunite, collaborate and perform at a high level almost 30 years later (the last time the two performed together onstage was in 1988 for the Amnesty International Human Rights NOW! Tour).
Opening the show was the thunderous, Ged Lynch-driven percussion of Peter Gabriel’s dark and brooding “The Rhythm of the Heat,” followed by Sting’s lively and spirited “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.” Although the two songs contrasted in both emotion and style it set the tone for the mockingly self-titled “Peter and Gordon” show. It was a 2 hour and 45-minute tour de force featuring a comprehensive retrospective of each artist’s brilliant solo career including their most popular singles with The Police and Genesis interspersed throughout the set. A greatest hits concert never sounded so good and was never so fun to watch as both men took the lead while the other performed in a supporting role, and vice versa. Superior lighting, video support and powerful sound did not hinder or overpower but rather supported and enhanced the audience’s connection to their storytelling with a visceral viewing experience.
Central to the theme of the tour is musical experimentation and the results were very interesting. Peter Gabriel sang a very emotional rendition of Sting’s “Fragile” evoking the memory of the victims of a gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, calling for peace, empathy and solidarity. Sting found much success covering “Shock the Monkey” to a very funky and organic guitar-piano-drum groove. With no massive wall of synths present, it made for a less in-your-face (less “shocking” if you will) and more laid back version. They often played around with arrangements and mixed things up with different instrumentation on tunes such as “Driven to Tears,” in which it’s calypso stylings are replaced in favor of a more straight-ahead, high energy rock groove featuring an absolutely ripped-to-shreds solo by virtuoso violinist Peter Tickell to close the song. Peter Gabriel covered Sting’s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” about 20 beats per minute slower and created a very sparse but yet another very cool guitar, bass, drum, piano/organ blues groove backing to his gravelly lead vocal.
It wouldn’t be a complete Sting/Peter Gabriel show without all the great crowd pleasers like the powerful “Red Rain,” “Secret World,” (complete with dance choreography among all the musicians)“In Your Eyes,” (featuring a really nice back and forth improvisation between keyboardists David Sancious and Angie Pollock) and “Don’t Give Up,” (featuring a beautiful, tear inducing duet between Gabriel and the fabulous Jennie Abrahamson) the jovial Gabriel numbers “Big Time” and “Solsbury Hill,” as well as Sting’s “Englishman in New York,” “The Hounds of Winter,” (featuring ‘the greatest drummer in the world, Vinnie Colaiuta on the snare drum solo”) and “Message in a Bottle” by the Police. The final two songs, making up the encore, sent an already electrified audience into a frenzy. The monster hit of the 80’s, “Every Breath You Take” was followed by “Sledgehammer,” another mega hit from the same era. The latter featured even more fancy footwork and dancing in funky synchronization among all the vocalists.
Post-concert, I found several of my press corp. associates had taken umbrage with, what they had found to be, a few stumbles and a certain unevenness in the flow of the set. However, I feel that instances such as the Sting-led Genesis cover of “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” segueing into “Message in a Bottle” by the Police and Gabriel’s “Love Can Heal” (a tribute to Member of Parliament and Brexit opponent, Jo Cox, who was brutally murdered in a hate crime) transitioning into Sting’s Middle-Eastern inflected “Desert Rose” merely celebrated just how near and far apart the two artists are in terms of musical identity. This was not lost on the audience since the central message of the event was to rejoice in our differences as well as our similarities.
Living in the present where musical acts are prefabricated creations of producers and outsourced songwriting teams, Peter Gabriel and Sting delivered honest songwriting, sharing their own personal messages and stories that once permeated the radio airwaves in a most personal manner that once was common practice. Wow, imagine that? Actual musicians constantly honing their craft, writing and performing their own music on real musical instruments seems like a novelty nowadays. This night in present day 2016 gave everyone in the audience a much needed breath of fresh air.
(c) Chicago Music Guide by Frank Lucas
Sting and Peter Gabriel full of synergy at the United Center...
The menacing synths, haunting vocals and hypnotic percussion of Peter Gabriel's "The Rhythm of the Heat" started the evening, the singer stationary, cloaked in shadows behind his keyboard. Several minutes later, Sting took the spotlight, bass in hand, for his peppy "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You," a song that could not have been more dissimilar. But after nearly three hours of performing solo and in tandem Saturday at the United Center, any fleeting concerns that a live pairing of Gabriel and the former Gordon Sumner would be more contrast than synergy had long since been put to rest.
Despite the divergent twists and turns of careers that have only occasionally crossed, the two have plenty in common. Both Gabriel and Sting rose to prominence as frontman of iconic bands, both looked well beyond the bounds of Great Britain for musical inspiration, both even share a similar vocal timbre, which worked out well whenever one sang backup for the other. And when in doubt, both knew when to defer to the band, 12 members strong, collectively more than capable of navigating both Gabriel's epic mood pieces as well as Sting's more compact material.
Maybe it was knowing they were in such capable hands (or confident in their own voices, surprisingly strong for a couple of guys in their mid-60s) that made both singers so playful. Sting, often loose and smiling, handled verses of Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" and "Shock the Monkey," and prefaced "Message in a Bottle" with a snippet of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight," a rarely aired relic of Gabriel's Genesis days. Gabriel clearly enjoyed singing Sting's swinging "Englishman in New York," goofed (along with his band) during "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" and rearranged Sting's "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" into a sly lark, possibly revenge for Sting picking "Kiss That Frog" (one of Gabriel's worst songs) to sing before Gabriel and backing singer Jennie Abrahamson led the ever-stirring "Don't Give Up" (one of his best).
At other times Sting and Gabriel were powerfully in sync, never more so than the sequence of "Driven to Tears," Fragile" and "Red Rain." Sting related those songs to the recent spate of senseless killings, and Gabriel later dedicated his beautiful new "Love Can Heal" to murdered British MP Jo Cox, but otherwise these two veterans of Amnesty International's Human Rights Now tour kept the politics relatively subdued, perhaps recognizing the relief that music can provide in times of trouble and turmoil. Watching Sting find fresh energy in "Every Breath You Take" or Gabriel guiding "In Your Eyes" like a beacon of empathy and joy, one suspects even rock stars sometimes find that relief too.
(c) Chicago Tribune by Joshua Klein
Sting and Peter Gabriel @ The United Center...
Two of the most creatively unpredictable and beloved band members turned solo artists just so happen to be longtime friends, though Sting and Peter Gabriel have rarely crossed paths on the road. Sure, there was the groundbreaking but brief “A Conspiracy Of Hope” tour in 1986 for Amnesty International, but outside of the occasional award ceremony or TV show, The Police’s fearless leader and the former Genesis front man’s relationship hasn’t exactly played out in public.
Perhaps taking cues from Sting’s last link-up with Paul Simon, this “Rock Paper Scissors” outing alongside Gabriel featured a similar format of a communal band featuring these Rock and Roll Hall of Famers’ key players, plus a mostly collaborative set where the co-headliners supported each other and occasionally covered one another’s material. While the 160 minute night at United Center generally catered to the “Every Breath You Take” and “Sledgehammer” crowds, there were still a few surprises and many unique moments that would never go down in a solo show.
For instance, Sting introduced The Police’s “Message In A Bottle” with the opening portion of Genesis’ “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” (met with shrieks of shock and delight from the progressive rock fanatics), while Gabriel returned the favor rearranging Sting’s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” as a jazzy shuffle that stripped away some of the now dated production. Gabriel also debuted an entirely new and unreleased tune called “Love Can Heal,” a gentle ballad that was quite beautiful in the tradition of “Here Comes The Flood” or “Washing Of The Water,” despite lacking the magnetism needed to transfix a sold out arena.
Sting didn’t perform anything from this decade, but “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” proved just as relevant as ever, especially during the cheer-inducing line “you could say I’d lost my belief in our politicians.” Prior to acoustic “Fragile,” the singer/songwriter/bassist also called for empathy surrounding all the recent displays of terrorism and violence, specifically urging everyone to unite as human beings rather than segregating over skin color, sexual orientation or social status.
Gabriel displayed all the many shades of his musical personality, including the art rocker “The Rhythm Of The Heat,” the hopeful ballad “Don’t Give Up” (with Jennie Abrahamson capably subbing for Kate Bush), the funky “Big Time” and the joyful alt-pop of “Solsbury Hill.” He and several band members rarely left the stage, instead grabbing seats on the side to sway, dance, or in the case of all-star bassist Tony Levin, snap photos of Sting’s solo performances.
The man born Gordon Sumner sometimes did the same (minus the snapshots), but regularly jumped in with the background singers to lend his signature harmonies and repay Gabriel’s just as frequent keyboard and vocal accompaniment. After tearing down the house together with the massive sing-a-long “In Your Eyes,” a lively encore of “Every Breath You Take” and “Sledgehammer” on steroids truly sealed the partnership, and given that the 28 songs presented only scratched the surface of each performer’s overwhelming outpouring, “Rock Paper Scissors” could very well spawn a much deserved sequel someday.
(c) Illinois Entertainer by Andy Argyrakis
Peter Gabriel and Sting bring giant "Rock Paper Scissors" tour through Windy City...
Rock gods Sting and Peter Gabriel are a perfect marriage and can still rock the roof off a venue, evidenced by their "Rock Paper Scissors" show, which hit the United Center on Saturday night.
The show started like the set of a horror movie in a sea of shadows and red lights cascading the stage and audience like the darkness of the night for Peter Gabriel’s “The Rhythm of the Heat.”
Minutes following, entering stage left rocking his bass guitar was the man who’s real name is merely non-existent and simply known as Sting.
The two legendary powerhouses then joined forces on “Digging In The Dirt,” “Invisible Sun” and an awe-inspiring rendition of “Shock the Monkey.”
Sting and Gabriel complemented each other the entire night, keeping audience members on their feet after playing cut after cut of thriving hits that have spanned and stayed relevant for nearly five decades. The three-hour performance found the icons bouncing back and forth, and even collaborating on some of their classics.
Gabriel, the leader of Genesis, in the early '70s, when some will argue were the band’s best years, later went solo and produced rock anthems like “Sledgehammer.”
Sting’s trek is very similar in retrospect. Starting with The Police, later seeming to outgrow his cohorts as he dove headfirst into an inspiring solo career that has produced some of the most thought-provoking lyrical showcases with hits like “Englishman in New York” and “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.”
Gabriel joked about the incredible physical shape Sting is in, telling the audience that he has been on the yoga mat as well, but “never realized I had to move on it.”
The night was never full of surprises, just soulful euphoria of two of the industry’s greatest ambassadors. The collaboration seemed as smooth as the creation of a top super group and songs like “Driven to Tears” and “Red Rain” almost left you forgetting which hits were whose.
Leading up to the explosive encore were the fascinating “Desert Rose” and “In Your Eyes.” After leaving the stage briefly, the two rejoined for a finale of each artist’s most recognizable and ginormous hits “Every Breath You Take” and “Sledgehammer.”
(c) NWITimes by Damian Rico
Sting and Peter Gabriel deliver big time in Chicago...
Sting and Peter Gabriel brought their "Rock Paper Scissors Tour" to Chicago's United Center Saturday, June 9, and it turned out to be one of the most musically satisfying concerts I had seen years. Both men are in their mid-60s, but you couldn't tell that from the way they were running and jumping all over the stage. They seemed to feed on each others energy, and the audience ate it up.
Before you think this was a typical double bill of “I’ll do a set, then you do a set, and then we'll do some duets,” no, no, no! Far from it. With the exception of a handful of songs, both men shared the stage the entire night taking turns doing their songs, or doing each others songs, or collaborating on songs.
Together they brought with them two bands totaling 14 musicians, and there was a combination of both bands performing many of the songs throughout the night. As Gabriel put it, they had a good natured battle of the bands.
The best part was that everyone on the stage looked like they were having the time of their lives; no trace of ego could be seen during the night. Sting and Gabriel were the best example of this. It was easy to tell from their banter and playful joking that they enjoyed each others company. When not singing lead, they would each sing background for the other. They also provided musical support for each other on several songs; Gabriel on keyboards for Sting, and Sting on bass for Gabriel.
What about the music? Well, lots of the hits got played: "Solsbury Hill,” "Roxanne,” "In Your Eyes,” "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” There were also some really great musical surprises: "Invisible Sun,” Sting singing lead on "Shock The Monkey,” a gorgeous duet of "Fragile" that was dedicated to all the recent shooting victims around the country, and Sting introducing "Message In a Bottle" with a verse from the Genesis classic "Dancing With a Moonlit Knight.”
Gabriel played a brand new song called "Love Can Heal" that was written for slain politician Jo Cox, who was a friend of his. He also did a bluesy cover of Sting's "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.” Sting's scorching version of "Roxanne" morphed into a jazzy mid-section that became Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" before transitioning back into "Roxanne.” A highlight for me was seeing Sting rock the bass on Gabriel's "Big Time" with Gabriel's bass player Tony Levin looking on in approval.
The entire group of musicians took their bows after a fantastic rendition of "In Your Eyes,” where Sting and background singer Jenny Abrahamsson improved on the famous Youssou N'dour vocal part. After a very short time everyone came back out for encores of "Every Breath You Take" and "Sledgehammer,” with Sting and Gabriel trading vocals on both songs. The whole show clocked in at around three hours, and the audience wanted more. It was a brilliant collaboration of two artists who still enjoy playing live and definitely enjoyed being on stage together. I hope the way they put their show together will become the standard for co-headlining acts in the future.
(c) Tampa Bay Times by Mark Kenneally
Rock Paper Scissors Concert Review...
Sting and Peter Gabriel are standing shoulder-to-shoulder ten minutes into the Rock Paper Scissors concert. They are each holding a microphone looking as if they are about to launch into a comedy routine, but instead they are setting expectations with the crowd. No, this is not standard opener/headliner show and it is not a concert where the headliners both play shortened sets while maximizing their profit and lessening the fan experience. Gabriel and Sting are reinventing the book on co-headline tours. Imagine a show where two top tier artists face- off not on how well their albums sell, how much money they make, how good their backing dancers are, but by how good their bands are?
When I last saw Sting it was in February of 2014, he was venturing on a similar setup with Paul Simon. However, while there was camaraderie on that tour, the generation gap made this jaunt with Gabriel feel like more of a friendly competition. First off, Sting and Gabriel were widely visible as the musical movement leading Amnesty International nearly three decades back. They explained how they brought their bands together for rehearsals many months ago and how they challenged each other song-by-song, theme by theme with the rivalry even spilling over into the effects. Gabriel opted for a low-key approach often performing behind his keyboard to stage left with dark illumination, while Sting stood front and enter basking in the expansive beams. Their music echoed light and darkness with their cumulative efforts taking the audience through a museum of heartache, enlightenment and euphoria. I will go on record that I have never seen two artists of this caliber integrate as seamlessly as they did during the course of this concert.
Sharing the stage for the first time since 1988, both artists bring a worldly view through their musical exploration and their contemplative lyrics. I cannot lie; both catalogs have informed my musical understanding more than this review will allow me to express. From pop-music to deep brooding mood records that are as gory as Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and as heart wrenching as Nirvana's In Utero. Albums such as So, Us, The Soul Cages and Ten Summoner's Tales never leave my iPod. The screen hanging over the stage before the show featured a cow on one side and a ship on the other. As they explained, Gabriel's father was a cow farmer and Sting's father sold milk on his ships. Connected by fathers, the two of them interweaved with each other's catalogs for just under three-hours in the greatest co-headline tour I have ever witnessed. Brothers with different mothers, Sting and Gabriel brought out the best in their respective catalogs.
Up first was Peter Gabriel who took the stage for the gradually erupting "The Rhythm of the Heat". The stage was dim but featured most of the extended band. Gabriel delicately delivered the first blow with a flabbergasting dual-drum finale, accentuated by the added percussionist from Sting's band. Without missing a beat, Gabriel exited the stage and Sting strode onto it with lights up ready to lift the audience with "If I Ever Lose My Faith". When he sung the lyric "You could say I'd lost my belief in our politicians / They all seemed like game show hosts to me", the crowd roared with approval. The entire show was a dichotomy of emotions; marriage and divorce, contentment and wretchedness, light and darkness, birth and death.
The stage was large enough to house the fourteen musicians, vivid screens, notable backdrops and stellar sound, but in the end, it was all about the music. Both bands rose to the challenge and pushed each other to extremes. While the bands were designated as the "Red" (Gabriel) and "Blue" (Sting) teams, Gabriel and Sting performed fourteen songs together over the course of the show. "Digging in the Dirt" and "Invisible Sun" found some penetrating serenading between the two. On the latter, Gabriel's deep voice added indescribable dimensions. On "Shock the Monkey" Sting took over lead vocal duties in a frisky rendering. Watching this made you realize why The Police were never going to be the only vehicle for him, his tastes and energy expand far beyond a three-piece band. Later in the show, Sting once again awed the crowd with a bubbling adaptation of Gabriel's "Kiss That Frog" while Gabriel made "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" into a lost soulful Stax Records recording giving weight to Sting's writing and Gabriel's creative re-arrangement.
The entire evening's performances felt like a call and answer to the previous song. Sting's vitalizing solo numbers played off Gabriel's morose concentration. "Driven To Tears" was muscular as much as it was magical, while "Walking In Your Footsteps" featured a mesmerizing flute solo. "The Hounds of Winter", from the unappreciated 1996 Mercury Falling, was especially evocative with Sting's vocals adding a passionate edge for a lost love. Even "Roxanne" felt novel with a snippet of Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine". Sting was never one to play by the rules. He reunited with the Police when most had given up hope and throughout his storied solo career, he has never shied away from spinning these classic Police numbers on their head. He left the crowd's mouths agape with the Genesis song "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" used as an extended intro to the rippling riffs of "Message in the Bottle". Gabriel has never voluntarily performance any of his Genesis era material in concert in decades so this was a smart and stunning move on Sting's part.
Peter Gabriel delivered shattering tales of the world that left the audience in pieces. Early in the set, he performed his 1992 classic, "Secret World" which is built on vivid tension customarily reserved for a cinematic thriller. In the two decades since "Secret World" appeared on Us in 1992, it has not lit up radio dials, but anyone who has witnessed Peter Gabriel in concert knows it is a central moment of any show. As Gabriel whispered "shhh" into his microphone, the few remaining in their seats stood up because they were intrinsically aware something magical was about to happen. Gabriel's longtime guitarist David Rhodes tickled his guitar strings and took the song into a strapping musical terrain that matched the concentration of Gabriel's lyrics and themes. On his 1992 blistering first-person narrative, Gabriel took us beneath the surface of beauty into a chaotic and bleeding soul yearning for compassion and understanding. He has always matched these deeply personal declarations with some of the most bracing arrangements imaginable touching pop, rock and world music in a way that few could touch. To be honest, the only other counterpart he had who could match his eclectic tastes was Sting.
"Red Rain", "San Jacinto" and "Solsbury Hill" evoked a thousand memories in their durable and spot-on performances. Both Sting and Gabriel have slowed their output of albums, Gabriel's official output is has reached a standstill. Since 1993, he has released only one official studio record of new material, Up from 2002. He has had other items of note including a few soundtrack albums, an orchestral covers record, a deluxe So box set and dozens of soundtrack songs. Most recently he released a rather incredible tribute to Muhammad Ali entitled "I'm Amazing". Towards the end of the show, he left the audience stunned with a solemn new song, "Love Can Heal" which was dedicated to Jo Cox, the Parliament member who was brutally murdered last month. Gabriel knew her and as he silenced the crowd, he brought the outside world into the arena. There are those who feel concerts are for entertaining but I have always felt art answers to a higher power that has the potential to transform, enlighten, educate and above all else make us more empathetic to others in the world. I just hope he finds the right vehicle for these songs because we need them.
Before Sting and Peter Gabriel performed "Fragile" together, they took a moment to talk to the crowd about the recent tragedies in the world. It was an emotionally wrecking performance. These two artists share a common thread in eloquently finding a way to paint sophisticated pictures that intricately human. They are showing us how they are still relevant, vital and evolving. Inside the United Center, these songs burst to life and shook me to my core making me think I was hearing them for the first time. Both of them appear to be reinventing their art by revealing diverse creative shades no one knew existed. Gabriel tours so infrequently that any time he's willing to take the stage and share his tales of love, wonder and heartache is an occasion in itself, and yet somehow Sting helped him up the ante this time around. With two bands tackling the music, there were inconspicuous rhythms and chimes evoking the images of our fight for survival in a world where the odds are stacked against all of us.
Sting and Gabriel are both esteemed artists who did more than distract us from our troubles but who infused world music into their artistic vision bringing their audience along for the educational ride. They also dared us to look out of our own bubbles to confront the troubles of the world and even ripped open their deepest fears and heartaches in a pair of masterpieces from the 1990s, Us and The Soul Cages. Closing out the show both men performed their biggest hits, "In Your Eyes" and "Every Breath You Take", but it was the closing song, "Sledgehammer", that brought it all into focus. After an evening of concentrated internal reflection, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder playfully singing Gabriel's only number-one from thirty years ago this month. There was a lot of joy in the room. Life is about discovery and these two artists have helped me discover so much that I could never pay them back. Like their fathers before them, they have found common ground in the need to encapsulate the human experience in their music. They have walked down different paths, but both have mined their souls for the betterment of their audience. Peter Gabriel and Sting would take turns on infecting the audience with horror while the other with hope. Gabriel works in the shadows occasionally common up to see the sun whereas Sting embraces the light, wraps his arms around it and it was the tug of war that made the Rock Paper Scissors tour an utterly engrossing experience.
(c) Antimusic by Anthony Kuzminski