Paul Simon and Sting
Qantas Arena, Sydney
REVIEW NICK SAS
You can punch out all sorts of superlatives to describe the Paul Simon and Sting live concert experience. But one word stands out: wow.
The duo, set to play their last Australian shows on the South Perth foreshore on Saturday and Sunday night, played to about 13,000 fans at Sydney’s Qantas Arena on Friday night.
And unless Friday night was an anomaly (which I’m almost positive it wasn’t) everyone who is going to the Perth concerts is in for a treat.
The two long-time pals formed the concept for the tour during a benefit concert in 2013 where they performed together for the first time.
The tour crisscrossed the US last year, taking a break for Sting’s Broadway appearances in The Last Ship, before coming Down Under.
And though in some respects it is a bit of an odd coupling — the strong, sexual Sting and the soft, sensitive Simon — somehow it just works.
Visually the 1.6m Simon is towered over by the bearded Sting who, at 63, still looks like he could complete a triathlon, play a gig and then complete one of his “other” long sessions.
And though Simon looks as if he’s been hitting the gym with the effervescent one-time Police frontman, there is a little bit of Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins about them.
Musically, their differences are probably more profound than their similarities. But, when you have two artists with back catalogues that could keep 94.5FM going for five hours straight, well, why not join forces?
The first thing noticeable on arrival is the sheer number of musicians.
When on stage together the duo are backed by a 16-piece band —16 of the best musicians you’ll find in the world, including drummers, percussion, many guitarists, many singers, a horn section, keys and a violinist-mandolinist (who is spectacular).
A highlight is Simon’s multi-instrumentalist Mark Stewart, who plays slide and regular guitar as well as baritone sax, cello and penny whistle. It sounds unreal.
In terms of the song selection, it is essentially a greatest-hits set, with a few surprises.
Sting’s Brand New Day kicked things off in Sydney, with a few songs — and rehearsed banter — together before Simon left the stage.
In solo mode, Sting was superb. When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around, So Lonely (complete with tuba and violin solos) and Walking on the Moon were all punched out with real energy.
After those mega hits, Sting left and Simon walked back on stage to bang out Mrs Robinson, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and Graceland — a pretty decent three-song combination.
A bit of Creole-inspired jamming brought Sting to the stage again for Fragile, sharing the vocals with Simon — and, again, it was brilliant.
The voices of Simon and Sting both sounded superb, with Sting particularly virile. Simon sounded on the money and was much more relaxed in his demeanour than during his previous visit to Australia.
The one drawback — and it kept this show from going into the five-star category — is it all seems entirely rehearsed. The banter was obviously rehearsed and the solos from the brilliant backing band, though excellent, seemed so time-sensitive there must have been someone with a stopwatch out the back — there are definitely no Neil Young Crazy Horse-style jams at a Simon and Sting concert.
I won’t spoil the end but Sting comes back on and plays the Police mega hits, with the highlight being Roxanne — complete with funky breakdown into Bill Withers’ Ain’t no Sunshine seguing back into the Roxanne crescendo — just superb. The encore is one for the ages.
Paul Simon and Sting play Sir James Mitchell Park this Saturday and Sunday at 5pm.