Paul Simon and Sting | The O2 | 16 April 2015
Both started out in successful groups that split acrimoniously.Each has a failed Broadway musical to his name. And, uhm, their surnames start with ‘S’. Not much in common, then, between the quintessential ‘60s New York folk singer and a Newcastle milkman’s son born Gordon Sumner.
Doesn’t matter. Any real differences between Paul Simon and Sting suddenly seem irrelevant when, together, they open the set with a few of their biggest hits. And as they trade verses on songs like ‘Fields of Gold’ and ‘Mother and Child Reunion’, it’s obvious the odd couple share a mutual respect and back catalogues that are not insubstantial — or incompatible.
The celebratory carnival atmosphere of ‘Desert Rose’ wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Rhythm of the Saints’ and the reggae flavours of ‘Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard’ can be heard in The Police’s breakout hits. And when they embody each other’s songs — Simon’s increasingly reedy voice reflects the sentiments of ‘Fragile’; Sting’s earnest delivery gels with the stirring sentiments of ‘America’ — it’s clear that this is more carefully curated love-in than cynical cash-in.
Of course there are missteps along the way. ‘So Lonely’ doesn’t need (or want) a tuba solo. Fussy arrangements transform ‘The Boxer’ into a schmaltzy Vegas show tune and smother ‘50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’. And a violin instrumental adds nothing to ‘When The World Is Running Down’. But when each singer’s ever-transforming backing band keeps things simple, the songs shine. Led by little more than Dominic Miller’s intricate guitar work, ‘Shape Of My Heart’ is genuinely moving, while a straight ahead delivery of ‘Message In A Bottle’ gets the seated audience up on their feet. So too does Simon’s back-to-back jive through the still irrepressible ‘You Can Call Me Al’ and ‘Diamonds On The Souls Of Her Shoes’, even if the 73 year old is clearly more at ease during starker, more reflective moments like ‘Homeward Bound’.
A confident excursion down ‘The Cool, Cool River’ with its cascading Vincent Nguini guitar riff, and a dusting off of the long-forgotten ‘Hounds Of Winter’ are welcome surprises (or bathroom-break opportunities) adding depth to a 32-song set that ends as it began, with Simon and Sting on stage together. Three of the 20th century’s most ubiquitous songs — ‘Cecilia’, ‘Every Breath You Take’, and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ — are clearly there to send the punters home happy, but their joyous rendition of The Everly Brothers’ ‘When Will I Be Loved’ genuinely looks and sounds like two superstars just enjoying the moment — and each others’ company.