They’re both huge, arena-worthy artists in their own right, which does make one wonder what forces conspired to push the former bass player with The Police and Art Garfunkel’s sometime recording partner out on the road together.
Maybe it’s just an economies of scale thing from this smart old pair of music business operators, affording them the opportunity to put a 16-strong mini-orchestra of backing musicians up on stage with them, which certainly lends richness and depth to the playing.
Either way, for modesty’s sake or otherwise, the agreement they’ve struck doesn’t seem to allow one to attempt to headline over the other, so what we’re left with is a resolutely polite set-up where both of their sets are merged in ”no, after you” fashion.
Given that no songs appear to have been spared from either of their individual setlists and that the expansive (fortunately all-seated) experience stretches to a weighty three hours and 36 tracks, it seems fair to say that favouring one or the other strongly might define your experience.
A diehard Paul Simon fan, for example, will be stuck with Sting on his own after every four tracks or so, and vice versa, with the pair duetting on a song between each block. This is how the show starts, in fact, with a brief joint set featuring Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’ and Simon’s ‘Mother and Child Reunion’, before Sting takes over himself.
While Simon is an unexpectedly dynamic figure at the age of 72, dressed in black from his hat to his jeans like a member of the Sopranos’ cast, the lean Sting has borne his 63 years ludicrously well, even the large gristly beard and man-shawl he wears doing nothing to dampen the swoons.
He’s also arguably the lesser of the two talents here in terms of his repertoire, and not just because he concedes his junior role by admitting he’s “measured out his life with a soundtrack of Paul Simon songs” before a striking, tender version of the latter’s ‘America’.
Around half of Sting’s 15 songs are Police numbers, and they’re urgent, tightly performed tracks, from the easy skank of ‘Walking On the Moon’ and ‘Message in a Bottle’ to a driving, dancer-friendly ‘Every Breath You Take’. By contrast, his solo material largely belies the rich complexity of its arrangement with a surly drabness at odds with Simon’s breezy wit and enthusiasm.
It’s probably true that Simon owns all the best moments here, although not necessarily the performances which deliver them. He plays ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ with a sedate jazzman’s swagger, and ‘Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard’ and ‘You Can Call Me Al’ with a winningly tarnished vocal exuberance to match the richly lived-in feel of the arrangements.
Yet Sting’s contributions to Simon’s songs are crucial, from the aforementioned ‘America’ to a punkish yelp on their ‘Mrs Robinson’ duet and a breath-taking choirboy falsetto which claims temporary ownership of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.
This odd couple finish, alone and acoustic, with a poignant breeze through the Everly Brothers’ ‘When Will I Be Loved?’.