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.”
Unlike many performers today, Sting puts his money in sound and musicians rather than gadgets, fireworks and set design.
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.”
Sting's Staying Power
“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.”
Those in the audience who were Simon fans became Sting fans and vice versa.
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.