Sting is a guy who clearly plays well with others.
Two years ago he came to the Palace with Paul Simon on the well-received On Stage Together tour. On Thursday night, June 30, the pairing was with Peter Gabriel, playing a two-hour and 45-minute show that was occasionally overstuffed but dazzled most of the night, hitting plenty of resonant, moving notes across the course of its 28 songs.
Sting described the Rock Paper Scissors tour to the Palace crowd as “a good-natured battle of the bands,” but it was in every way a testament to creative cooperation by kindred spirits, and a rich musical experience even amidst the extensive and inventive video production.. Both British artists share roots in rock and R&B, and both went on to explore exotic, international styles that they each incorporated into their music -- Gabriel primarily from Africa, Sting from the Middle East and South America. The melange was on full display Thursday, blended with the huge sense of fun both men and their bands - 14 musicians strong when everybody was on stage, which was quite often - are clearly having with the partnership.
They started alone - Gabriel with “The Rhythm of the Night,” Sting with “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” - before the duo paused to welcome the crowd. A droll Gabriel compared his hoodie-and-parachute-pants look to Sting’s chiseled physique, noting that, “It’s been 14 years since I was last on a yoga mat. I figured I should get back into it.” And after three “power yoga” sessions, he declared that “No one backstage could tell us apart. We’re known as the Tantric Twins.”
The real fun began with the collaborations, as the two shared vocals and shifted band members on the Police’s “Invisible Sun” and Gabriel’s “No Self Control,” “Games Without Frontiers” and “Shock the Monkey.” And they paid attention when the other took over the stage; Gabriel sat in a side-stage armchair as he watched Sting and his band play the Police’s “Driven To Tears” and swayed with bassist Tony Levin as they sat on a keyboard riser during “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.”
And while Sting has more outright hits, Gabriel’s material provided the night’s emotional highs, whether it was a pounding “Red Rain” or a buoyant “Solsbury Hill” that came out of Sting’s “Englishman in New York.” “In Your Eyes,” meanwhile, was enriched by the extra musicians, with Sting on backing vocals and snappy choreography. And Gabriel held the Palace crowd rapt as he dedicated his brand new song, the hushed “Love Can Heal,” to slain British parliament member Jo Cox, who he’d met some years ago before she entered politics.
Sting, meanwhile, pulled out the opening of Genesis’ “Dancing With the Moonlit Night” - its line about “selling England by the pound” made more meaningful by the recent Brexit vote - to introduce “Message in a Bottle.” And this year’s arrangement of “Roxanne” included a jazz-flavored section as well as a bit of Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
A pairing of the Police’s “Walking In Your Footsteps” (we’re sure shining a spotlight on the Pistons’ championship banners during a song about extinct creatures was purely coincidental) and Gabriel’s “Kiss That Frog” was also effective - though the latter, like a few other songs during the night, sounded cluttered by the full complement of musicians.
There were certainly songs that could have been trimmed from the set - notably Gabriel’s “Darkness” and Sting’s “The Hounds of Winter” - without losing anything. But the soaring final third of the show more than compensated for any speed bumps, and the encore of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” was a joyous tandem that may make it hard to hear either one performed again by Sting or Gabriel alone.
(c) Oakland Press by Gary Graff