Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Last night, I caught a concert at Pepsi Center -- Sting and Peter Gabriel, together on their "Rock, Paper, Scissors" tour. Neither is promoting a new album; they just decided it would be fun to go out there together and share a concert stage.

There was no opening act, no "who plays their set first?" They more or less alternated songs from each others' catalogues, playing straight through for over two and half hours. Some of the numbers divided along "red team" (Gabriel) and "blue team" (Sting) lines, with one band and headliner taking the stage alone while the others slipped away. But most of the show mixed things up.

There were songs where each artist added members of the other's band, doubling up guitarists, keyboardists or (most interestingly) three percussionists. (The couple of songs where all three played a traditional kit at once made for some big sound.) There were songs where Gabriel and Sting would trade off singing verses, or even lines within verses. For me, the real highlights were when each performer "stole" a song from the other. Sting's version of "Shock the Monkey" brought subtle hints of the rock/reggae sound from his days with The Police. Peter Gabriel's take on "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" was a fun yet creepy slow jam with dashes of Barry White vocal stylings and Beck keyboard licks.

I was going in mostly for Peter Gabriel. I have multiple albums from both artists in my collection, but I've always preferred Gabriel's biggest hits to Sting's. And judging from the rapturous applause after "In Your Eyes" and "Sledgehammer," it seemed like maybe the audience as a whole was tilted that way too. But it turned out that Sting was the one really shined throughout the evening. He seemed like the more dynamic and playful force on stage (and was really killing it on bass, as I overheard several people commenting as we left the show). Peter Gabriel was more low key and quirky, a David Byrne type of presence.

Still, both men seemed to have fun twisting up some of their hits a bit. Peter Gabriel turned the bridge of "Don't Give Up" into something of a gospel revival and changed keys on a few of his songs -- most notably "Games Without Frontiers." Sting took things even farther in places, whether it was giving a violinist an extended rock solo in "Driven to Tears," turning a female vocalist loose on an improvised aria in "The Hounds of Winter", or mashing up "Roxanne" with Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine."

It wasn't a concert that blew me away, but I definitely got what I was looking for. The pairing has several more stops on their tour, and it might be worth checking out if one is coming near you. If you're a fan of either artist, you'll definitely enjoy the show.

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