The story goes that, in the late 1980s, Paul Simon and Sting were neighbours in a New York apartment block; they took to hanging out together, playing each other their latest tunes. Fast-forward to 2014, when they duetted on Simon’s “The Boxer” and Sting’s “Fields of Gold” at a New York charity gig. “There was this audible gasp in the room,” as Sting told Rolling Stone with characteristic immodesty. They decided to develop their partnership, and this epic roadshow, which has been touring the globe since February and coincides with the release of Simon’s new Ultimate Collection album, is the result.
And it really is quite a thing: more than three hours of music of the very highest quality from an ensemble that at times numbered 17. The two stars drifted on- and offstage, performed their own songs, and sang together on each other’s, their voices dovetailing immaculately. What do they share, musically? Well, their voices are similarly pitched, which made duets such as “Mrs Robinson” and “Fragile” a comfortable fit, with Sting — sporting an enormous, scraggly, seafaring beard — reining in his powerful voice somewhat to match Simon’s more delicate timbre.
They also have in common a certain musical adventurism: Simon was exploring “world music” way before the term was coined, with songs such as “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” (here given an exhilarating Latin-percussive workout), while Sting — having achieved global success with the reggae-inflected songs of the Police — has explored the sounds of regions such as north Africa, here reflected in the breathtaking “Desert Rose”. Also, while they may seem to come from very different musical eras, a mere 10 years separated “Mrs Robinson” and “Roxanne”.
The show took a while to warm up, but these seasoned players hit their stride. Top moments: Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”, with its brilliant, punchy horns from a brass section that added a woozy, New Orleans flavour to the mix; an exquisite “Hearts and Bones”; and a spine-tingling “Every Breath You Take”.