“Welcome to our little experiment,” Paul Simon said early on at his co-headlining show with Sting at New York’s Madison Square Garden Tuesday night. “We’re putting two bands together, two repertoires together, having two singers sing. As the tour comes towards its conclusion and the bands blend and merge more, I expect we will become more and more alike. I personally feel I will be more Adonis-like in appearance and be able to have sex for days on end. Sting should be anticipating some changes as well.”
He was obviously kidding. But these two men from different generations and different continents have spent the past few weeks on the road mashing their large bands together and weaving their catalogs into one with remarkable results. They could have simply staged their standard solo concert, coming together for a few duets during the encore, but they opted for something far more unique and interesting. It was a show where “Brand New Day” seamlessly flowed into “Boy In The Bubble” and “Fields of Gold,” with Simon and Sting swapping lines back and forth with great ease.
The two singers have much in common. They both spent the first decade of their careers as the primary songwriter of an insanely successful act that went through a very ugly and public breakup right at the peak of its success. They both went onto huge solo careers where they experimented with world music, and they both agreed to highly nostalgic reunion tours in the mid-2000s that earned them boatloads of cash, but weren’t exactly forward-looking endeavors. They’re both also at a point in their careers where they can’t fill arenas on their own, so on a business level, this tour makes sense as well.
These are not men that enjoy spontaneity at their gigs. The show was meticulously rehearsed, the setlist barely changes from night-to-night and the backing musicians, some of the best in the business, are never going to miss a single note. There were 15 players total, including original E Street Band keyboardist David Sancious and backup singer Jo Lawry from 20 Feet From Stardom. They were able to perfectly recreate the original recording of “The Boxer” down to the booming drum effect, though the Police did a pretty good job with just three musicians and more isn’t always better. “Driven To Tears,” for example, didn’t necessarily require a violin solo.
After opening duets, Paul Simon left the stage and Sting got everyone on their feet for “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” “Englishman In New York” and “Walking on the Moon,” which provided a perfect reggae transition right into Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” and a string of Simon hits like “Graceland,” ” Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard.” It set the tone for the evening where neither man was running the show for long.
Simon ended his mini-set with a delicate cover of “Fragile,” and Sting immediately returned the favor with a stripped-down “America.” “Paul has been my teacher and mentor for many, many years,” he said. “He is without peer. This song reminds me of the first time I came to America. We rented a station wagon here in New York City and drove all across this country playing in dives and staying in shitty hotels. This song, even though it was a decade before, reminds me of that time.”
A show like this is bound to center around hits, though Sting did challenge the crowd by breaking out “I Hung My Head” and “The Hounds of Winter” from his 1996 LP Mercury Falling. Right as the crowd’s attention began to wander, Sting won them back with the opening notes of “Roxanne.” For his part, Paul Simon dusted off the gorgeous title track to 1983’s Hearts and Bones as well as 1991’s percussion-driven “The Obvious Child.” It’s one of his greatest solo tracks, but few people seemed to recognize it, though they lost their collective minds for the double shot of “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al.”
The encore began with “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” with Sting absolutely nailing the high notes on the first verse. (Poor Garfunkel. It’s hard to imagine this tour is sitting well with him.) Simon sang the second verse and they wrapped it up together before transitioning right into “Every Breath You Take” and a euphoric “Late In The Evening.” The band walked off and it seemed like it was over, but Simon and Sting both picked up acoustic guitars and harmonized on the Everly Brothers classic “When Will I Be Loved” that they dedicated to the late Phil Everly. For a brief moment, it almost seemed like we were all in another dimension where Simon & Sting had been a thing for decades.