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Paul Simon and Sting Prove an Inspired Pairing: Concert Review

Paul Simon Sting portrait 2014 P
Mark Seliger

The Bottom Line

The veteran singer-songwriters and old friends team up for what's likely to be one of the year's top tours.

Venue

The Forum
Los Angeles
(Saturday, Feb. 15)

 

You've got to hand it Paul Simon and Sting. Each could have easily staged another reunion tour with their respective erstwhile partners (Art Garfunkel and the Police), gone on their own greatest hits victory lap, or even revived a few of their classic albums on stage, but instead the two veteran singer-songwriters have launched one of the most surprising, daring, and rewarding double bills we're likely to see this year.

Not only did Simon and Sting share the bill Saturday at the Forum, but they shared the stage for about a third of the two-hour-and-40-minute set, dueting on each other's hits, and even taking solo spins on one another's songs. 

On paper it may seem like a odd couple. The New Jersey-born Simon, now 72, did some of his greatest work back in the '60s with his partner Garfunkel, writing and performing songs that deserve a place in the great American songbook, and went on to launch a successful solo career exploring world music. The British-born Sting, 10 years his junior and a recognized sex symbol, first gained notoriety in the late '70s, fronting a punk-era trio that went on to astronomical pop success.

Indeed, as time has passed, Sting's edge has softened and the two performers share a good portion of the same aging baby boomer audience. And there's the music. Simon's first solo hit, 1972's "Mother and Child Reunion," mined reggae years before Sting launched his own punky-reggae party with the Police, and both have gone on to take various forays into different world music throughout their careers. New York City neighbors since the late '80s, the two came up with the idea for the tour after testing the waters with a two-song performance at a benefit last May, and finding they work surprising well together.

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It also worked wonderfully at the Forum. The pair opened the show onstage together with Sting on bass and Simon on acoustic guitar and backed by 13 musicians -- including horns, strings, keyboards, background singers and a myriad of percussion. Sting's "Brand New Day" segued to Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" and then back to Sting's "Fields of Gold," with the two trading verses and licks with their fellow musicians. As Simon noted early on, the tour is "a little experiment, melding bands and repertoire and music every night for something different. By the end of the tour," he quipped, "maybe I'll have the body of an Adonis and will have sex for weeks on end."

While Simon's stud transformation is doubtful, he was in strong voice and performed with as much vigor as his younger counterpart throughout the night. The highlights -- too many to mention here (see full set list below) -- included Sting's soaring renditions of the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "Message in the Bottle" and "Roxanne," and a scorching "Driven to Tears," along with Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," "Graceland," and "Mother and Child Reunion."

But the moments when the two shared the stage were the most magical. A particularly moving segment had Simon starting Sting's "Fragile" with Sting then accompanying him on acoustic guitar. Simon's aging, but still sturdy voice brought new vulnerability to the tune, enhanced by cello and trumpet. It was a simply exquisite version that prompted Simon, who seemed genuinely moved, to proclaim, "I love that song." Sting returned the compliment, noting he's "humbled and inspired" by Simon's body of work. He then recalled his first trip to America with the Police -- whom he referred to only as "the band" -- before launching into a stunning version of Simon & Garfunkel's "America."

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About the night's only misstep was their take of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" in which their harmonies weren't quite in sync, but even that only seemed to add to the evening's charm.

The pair topped the magical night with an encore that included a duet version of the Police's "Every Breath You Take," and Sting taking Garfunkel's lead on "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Bathed in blue lights as a churchy organ swelled, he simply killed the song's final note, leaving no doubt that the Simon-Sting pairing is a success.

The duo finished the night alone on stage with acoustic guitars with Simon paying tribute to the recently departed Phil Everly. "He was one of my idols. I can't tell you have much I loved that guy," Simon said before they launched into a sweet version of the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved." Of course, the answer for Simon and Sting on this tour is right here and now.

Set List:

Brand New Day (Sting and Paul Simon)
Boy in the Bubble (Sting and Simon)
Fields of Gold (Sting and Simon)
Every Little Thing She Does is Magic (Sting)
Englishman in New York (Sting)
I Hung My Head (Sting)
Driven to Tears (Sting)
Love is the Seventh Wave (Sting and Simon)
Mother and Child Reunion (Sting and Simon)
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (Simon)
Dazzling Blue (Simon)
Graceland (Simon)
Still Crazy After All These Years (Simon)
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard (Simon)
Fragile (Sting and Simon)
America (Sting)
Hounds of Winter (Sting)
They Dance Alone (Sting)
Roxanne (Sting)
Desert Rose (Sting)
The Boxer (Sting and Simon)
That Was Your Mother (Simon)
Hearts and Bones (Simon)
Mystery Train/Wheels (Simon)
Obvious Child (Simon)
Diamonds on the Sole of Her Shoes (Simon)
You Can Call Me Al (Simon)

Encore:

Every Breath You Take (Sting and Simon)
Late in the Evening (Sting and Simon)
Bridge Over Troubled Water (Sting and Simon)
When Will I Be Loved (Sting and Simon)

Twitter: @craigrosen