HOUSTON, Texas – Paul Simon introduced the opening night of his On Stage Together tour with Sting as “an experiment melding two bands, two styles, two catalogs of songs.”
Two hours and 45 minutes later, the experiment could clearly be deemed a success.
The two veteran headliners’ show on Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Toyota Center lived up to the tour name, with Sting and Simon playing 10 of the night’s 30 numbers together, a collaborative approach far different from the usual kind of co-billing that takes to the road. And there was certainly enough common creative ground between the two that the combination not only made sense but was a genuine case of something more than the sum of its parts.
The two didn’t waste any time getting their act together – literally. They opened the show with a trio of collaborations – trading vocals on Sting’s buoyant “Brand New Day” and Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble,” while Sting’s “Fields of Gold” was tailor-made for Simon’s gentle timbre. They later teamed for a reggae pairing of Sting’s “Love is the Seventh Wave” and Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” and energetic encore renditions of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and Simon’s “Late in the Evening.”
Sting also got some chutzpah points for wading into Simon & Garfunkel territory, his trademark grit and husk a distinctive but still effective counterpart to Art Garfunkel’s angelic singing on “The Boxer,” “America” and the show-closing “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Adding to the collaborative festivities were the two artists’ bands, 14 musicians strong, which meshed and merged throughout the show to bring greater depth and nuance to the arrangements — particularly the buoyant polyrhythmics of Sting’s “Desert Rose.” He and Simon populated their separate sets with plenty of hits, too – Sting scoring with Police favorites such as “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” “Driven to Tears,” “Message in a Bottle” and “Roxanne” as well as “I Hung My Head” and “They Dance Alone,” while Simon’s “Hearts and Bones” led a medley of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” and Chet Atkins’ “Wheels,” and “Kodachrome” was fused with “Gone At Last.”
“50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Call Me Al” brought the crowd to its feet, but deeper tracks such as “Dazzling Blue” and “That Was Your Mother” were welcome inclusions.
The Simon-Sting “experiment” continues through March 16 in Orlando, and while it’s only likely to improve, opening night certainly established a high starting mark.