Paul Simon & Sting Vector Arena (Concert Review) 30 January 2015

There were enough musical instruments on stage to stock a good-sized shop as the somewhat unlikely pair of Paul Simon and Sting joined forces (and bands) to sing their own and each other’s songs to a sold-out crowd at Auckland’s Vector Arena.

Judging from the smile of Paul Simon’s face as he and his new BFF Sting opened their 32-song set with Sting’s Brand New Day. It must be a joy for the 73 year old performer to be playing and singing something other than his usual (though hugely impressive) catalogue of songs.

The same could be said of Sting who was much more that Paul’s Garfunkel. Sting brings plenty of his own quality songs to the mix and his husky voice blended well with Simon’s and his own interpretations of Paul Simon tunes such as America were refreshing.

The show started with both frontmen on stage along with both of their bands…over 15 musicians by my count…including respected drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and former E Street keyboard player David Sancious. There were horns of all descriptions, percussion instruments of all sizes, and a female backing singer named Jo Lawry.

The stage full of musicians hit the ground running with Brand New Day, Simon’s The Boy In The Bubble and an absolutely stunning version of Sting’s Fields Of Gold, with the two songwriters trading verses and harmonizing with each other.

It turned out to be just the first of many highlights.

Paul Simon then took the opportunity to speak. “Welcome to our experiment of merging two disparate bands into one cacophonous unit.”

Actually, this “experiment” has been going on for about a year, but the two hadn’t performed together since last March, with Sting just wrapping up his appearance on Broadway for his musical The Last Ship three days ago.

After the pre-requisite tantric sex joke, Simon and his half of the band left the stage and Sting served up a few Police gems…So Lonely (complete with a tuba solo) and When The World Is Running Down, which featured a wonderfully jazzy keyboard solo from Mr Sancious.

After a brassy Walking On The Moon, Paul returned and the two of them whipped up a rousing Mother & Child Reunion. Then Sting left the stage to Simon and we were treated to 50 Ways To leave Your Lover, Dazzling Blue…a cut from Paul’s latest album…and Graceland, which then led into Little Junior Parker’s Mystery Train, released by Elvis on Sun Records back in 1955. That, in-turn, segued into the Chet Atkins instrumental Wheels, giving fans a mini-lesson in the early days of rock & roll.

The evening was full of moments like these. Other highlights include Jo Lawry’s wailing vocal during Sting’s The Hounds Of Winter, Sting’s mini-medley of Roxanne and Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine and the zydeco-infused joy of Simon’s That Was Your Mother, complete with washboard solo.

A could go on and on. The display of musicianship and songwriting skill was breath-taking.

Things eventually came to a close as Sting showed off his pipes during Bridge Over Troubled Water and then followed it with Every Breath You Take. Surprisingly, but most pleasantly, they wrapped up with a celebratory Cecelia, a version that sounded loose, spontaneous and joyful.

The two master musicians returned for one last song, a tribute to Paul’s friend and inspiration Phil Everly, When Will I Be Loved.

I know there were folks who were wary about this pairing…Sting especially seems to evoke strong feelings…but I’ve gotta say that this was one of the most satisfying shows I have seen in some time.

Just the songs that these two artists had at their disposal is reason enough to get excited. And considering that they played for so long and still didn’t get around to classics like Sounds Of Silence, Kodachrome, Wrapped Around Your Finger, Russians, Homeward Bound is a testament to what these two have achieved over the course of both of their careers.

They play one more show in New Zealand tonight in New Plymouth…be there if you can.

– Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Michael Flynn:

Paul Simon & Sting set list:

  1. Brand New Day
  2. The Boy In The Bubble
  3. Fields Of Gold
  4. So Lonely
  5. When The World Is Running Down
  6. Seven Days/Every Little Thing
  7. Driven To Tears
  8. Walking On The Moon
  9. Mother And Child Reunion
  10. 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
  11. Dazzling Blue
  12. Graceland
  13. Mystery Train/Wheels
  14. Still Crazy After All These Years
  15. Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard
  16. Fragile
  17. America
  18. Message In A Bottle
  19. The Hounds Of Winter
  20. End Of The Game
  21. Roxanne/Ain’t No Sunshine
  22. Desert Rose
  23. The Boxer
  24. That Was Your Mother
  25. Cool Cool River
  26. The Obvious Child
  27. Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes
  28. You Can Call Me Al
  29. Bridge Over Troubled Water
  30. Every Breath You Take
  31. Cecelia
  32. When Will I Be Loved