Paul Simon And Sting At Madison Square Garden
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By Randee Dawn
On March 4 in New York Paul Simon returned to a hometown crowd that packed Madison Square Garden. Standing next to a lean, tall blond man, Simon knocked out two and a half hours of hits. But this wasn't a Simon & Garfunkel show — this was Simon and Sting.
The tour combination is simultaneously a head-scratcher and a hopeful wonder: Would these two artists fit perfectly together, like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup? Or would they just be an odd, curious pair?
The billing indicated this was Sting and Paul Simon "onstage together," so it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect that the pair would, in fact, be onstage together for the bulk of the night. Instead, the evening played out like three mini-concerts, with long periods devoted to Sting performing his solo and Police hits, and Simon working through his own and Simon & Garfunkel songs, while the other half of the billing took a break backstage. Over the course of the show the pair joined for just a handful of tunes, including the mild (if appropriate) Sting opener "Brand New Day" followed immediately by Simon's lively "The Boy In The Bubble."
The musicians are a study in contrast: Both clearly appreciate a terrific lick and a well-sung lyric, but Sting is a sleek, controlled performer who rarely left his microphone or engaged with the audience beyond his traditional shout-outs. Simon, on the other hand, seemed to light up with the music. When he jigged and waved his hands during the bouncing "That Was Your Mother" he seemed to be having the most fun in the arena.
Both are great musicians, whose songs stand alone, whether played as a duo or individually (though there were as many as 15 other musicians onstage with them). The Police's "Message In A Bottle" sounded just as tough and propulsive as it was when first released in 1979, and Simon's "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard" was a delight. Plus, to see Simon whistling his own tune was a treat in itself.
There were also moments of real transcendence; the two tenors emoted beautifully on Sting's delicate "Fragile," blowing a fresh breeze into the tune. Sting subbed for Art Garfunkel on the GRAMMY-winning "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and morphed the tune from an angelic, untouchable piece into a cri de coeur. The arrangements also gave familiar songs new life: from a horn section that was grafted into the Police tune "Walking On The Moon" to Simon's mini-medley of his own "Hearts And Bones" with the early rock grit of Junior Parker's "Mystery Train" and Chet Atkins' "Wheels." And the pair ended the show as a unit, hovering over a single microphone as they sang the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved."
But a pairing like this begs for something bigger to emerge. The two artists never felt as though they fed on each other's energy, and never worked up some kind of free-floating jam that might have justified why they were onstage together in the first place. Without those moments of spontaneity, the show never quite transcended being more than a well-thought out, organized business venture. But, fortunately for Simon and Sting and the fans, their songs have certainly stood the test of time.
To catch Paul Simon and Sting in a city near you, click here for tour dates.
"Brand New Day" (Sting)
"The Boy In The Bubble" (Simon)
"Fields Of Gold" (Sting)
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" (the Police)
"Englishman In New York" (Sting)
"I Hung My Head" (Sting)
"Driven To Tears" (the Police)
"Walking On The Moon" (the Police)
"Mother And Child Reunion" (Simon)
"50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" (Simon)
"Dazzling Blue" (Simon)
"Still Crazy After All These Years" (Simon)
"Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard" (Simon)
"America" (Simon & Garfunkel)
"Message In A Bottle" (the Police)
"The Hounds Of Winter" (Sting)
"They Dance Alone (Cueca Solo)" (Sting)
"Roxanne" (the Police)
"Desert Rose" (Sting)
"The Boxer" (Simon & Garfunkel)
"That Was Your Mother" (Simon)
"Hearts And Bones"/"Mystery Train"/"Wheels" (Simon/Junior Parker/Chet Atkins)
"The Obvious Child" (Simon)
"Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes" (Simon)
"You Can Call Me Al" (Simon)
"Bridge Over Troubled Water" (Simon & Garfunkel)
"Every Breath You Take" (the Police)
"Late In The Evening" (Simon)
"When Will I Be Loved" (Everly Brothers cover)
(Randee Dawn is a New York-based entertainment writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Variety, NBCNews.com, and Emmy magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in 3:AM Magazine and on the podcast "Well Told Tales," and she is the co-author of The Law & Order: SVU Unofficial Companion.)